Cultivating Innovation at the District Level

October 18th, 2013

Category: Student-Centered Learning

7.CultivatingInnovation[Click the above image to view it larger]

“How is innovation impacting our students and schools?” was a question at the heart of the “Cultivating Innovation at the District Level” breakout session at last week’s Vision 2015 conference on Delaware public education.  Attendees had an opportunity to hear how innovation is changing how and where our students are learning in Delaware and beyond. The panelists were Jill Hobson, the Director of Instructional Technology for Forsyth County Schools, located about 40 miles from Atlanta, Dr. Shawn Joseph, Superintendent of Seaford School District, and Sandy Smith, Director of Assessment and Accountability for the Indian River School District.

Panelists discussed topics such as the benefits of breaking away from the traditional delivery model of “one size fits all” for students, strategic professional development for educators, and how collective problem-solving and collaborative critical thinking are improving schools and the quality of education being delivered.

Forsyth County Schools – A National Model of Innovation

Jill Hobson provided the group with an overview of how Forsyth County Schools has become a leader in innovation. With 42,000 students, Forsyth County Schools is one of the fastest growing school districts in the country, which is both a challenge and an opportunity. Following the mantra that “one size does not fit all,” the district is maximizing the personalized learning experience so that students begin to take ownership of their learning and are working to their abilities and truly able to “show what you know.”

One example of how the district is innovating the learning experience is by moving away from purchasing expensive text books year after year.  By investing in digital resources that students can utilize through “BYOT” – Bring Your Own Technology and encouraging teachers to create their own digital content in a district-wide “Learning Object Repository,” students are provided with relevant and tailored learning opportunities that meet their needs.

Indian River School District – Cultivating Innovation throughout the District

Here in Delaware, the Indian River School District (IRSD) has been at the forefront of innovative practices to support students, teachers, and administrators. Sandy Smith shared with the group how IRSD is working with a large low-income population to be innovative in their efforts to help students and teachers achieve the “4 Cs”: creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

Being innovative doesn’t mean you have the latest and greatest technology, in fact much of what IRSD is focused on has no technology component. For teachers, professional learning communities (PLCs) are a part of the district fabric and, as a member of the Vision Network of Delaware, collaborating with schools in other districts to problem solve and instill best practices. For students, setting the bar high and raising expectations through implementation of the Common Core State Standards and developing personalized learning plans for both of the district’s high schools will help students take ownership of their high school academic career.

Seaford School District – What Innovation Looks Like

Last, Dr. Joseph spoke about the importance of their singular belief system – that every student will be advantaged, because schools should be the game changers serving children and providing them with the tools they need to become advantaged, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status.

The newly renovated Seaford High School has taken into account innovation’s impact on the physical school space and the school learning environment to help students on their journey to being advantaged. Classroom environments that consist of tables and chairs on wheels encourage collaboration and easy movement.  Large “collabradors,” open meeting areas throughout the school, promote collective problem-solving and opportunities to work on assignments and projects in small groups.

The common theme presented by the panelists is that innovation continues to transform education and the learning environment for our children and teachers. The availability of technology and resources is changing the way our children learn, but innovation is also about helping children succeed to the best of their abilities and supporting teachers and giving them the tools they need to effectively educate every child that enters their classroom.

We’ve just begun to explore how innovation can enhance the learning experience and we’ll be hearing more in the months ahead from school districts such as Appoquinimink, who are implementing flipped classroom models and piloting the use of mobile applications on hand-held devices. You can also learn more about an exciting collaborative effort underway by four local school districts. The Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vocational Technical and Colonial school districts (BRINC) — have collaborated to secure a $600,000 innovation grant from the state Department of Education for a project called “Linking to the Future.”

C.R. McLeod



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