New districts of innovation

New districts of innovation

New Districts of Innovation are getting personal
 
Kentucky School Advocate
December 2016
 
By Matt McCarty
Staff writer
 
Three districts were added to the Kentucky Department of Education’s Districts of Innovation program this year, and all three share a similar trait in their applications for the program.

“Personalized learning is at the core,” said David Cook, director of KDE’s Division of Innovation and Partner Engagement. “They all seem to have an inherent trait about them that I’m excited to see. That is the notion underlying each of these applications – we want to provide as many possible pathways to success after high school for our kids.”

The District of Innovation program is in its fourth year and the addition of Boone County, Corbin Independent and Metcalfe County brings the number of participating districts to 10.
Corbin Independent Schools
“Personalized learning is a major component of our District of Innovation as well as project-based learning and performance-based learning, which also includes assessment – which, that’s what we’re all looking for, authentic assessment,” said Mark Daniels, Corbin’s director of pupil personnel. “How can we assess students in relation to what they know and how they apply their knowledge to the real world?”

Daniels said the district will now have more flexibility to reach students it previously wasn’t able to reach.

“I can give you a lot of different examples of how the traditional school day does not work with a lot of students these days,” he said. “So we create more of a flexible schedule for those students.”
 
A group of Corbin Independent students enrolled in the district’s Kappa School
attend a webinar on coding. Kappa is a fully accredited online e-learning school
that can be used by students who want a flexible schedule or by homeschoolers.
(Photo courtesy of Corbin Independent Schools)

He said some students in the district are the caregivers for their family and it’s increasingly hard to balance a normal school day with work.

“So we create more of a flexible schedule for those students so they can do what they can do. It may take them a little bit longer to finish up but we want them to be able to complete that high school diploma,” Daniels said. “That’s one of the best examples of what we’re trying to do with all of our programs and services.”

He said it’s “frustrating” to try to work within a system when a student needs something different. “With this type of flexibility it allows us to be able to reach that kid,” he said.

Corbin had piloted some of its innovative ideas and the District of Innovation status allows it to consolidate the efforts under one umbrella. In addition to more flexible schedules, students will be able to use the extra time to take dual credit programs.
Metcalfe County Schools
Benny Lile, superintendent of Metcalfe County Schools, said being recognized as a District of Innovation feels “like you have an advocate on the part of (KDE).” Advocacy between the district and its students is a big piece of what Metcalfe County is doing.

The district’s middle and high school students as sixth-graders and ninth-graders, respectively, are assigned an advocate. “That person stays with them and obviously gets to know them and understand their needs and what can be done to help them navigate the educational landscape,” Lile said.
 
 
Students at Metcalfe County High School will be operating a community-based cannery and bake
shop as part of the District of Innovation program. (Photo courtesy of Metcalfe County Schools) 
 
He said Metcalfe’s District of Innovation approach was built around three pillars – relational, instructional and vocational.

“I know personalized learning gets tossed around a lot now as almost a buzzword and a piece of educational jargon, but if we’re going to be truly personalized then we truly have to look at every individual child,” Lile said.

As part of the vocational component, the district is opening a community-based cannery and bake shop that will be operated by students. There will be three aspects to it: culinary, marketing and business.

In addition to working with Western Kentucky University, the district will work with Monroe County and Barren County school districts to place students in their technical programs.

“Our whole goal behind every bit of this is to provide our students with every opportunity possible that we can in our region that does not necessarily have to be within the boundaries of our county,” Lile said.
Boone County Schools
Karen Cheser, Boone County’s deputy superintendent and chief academic officer, said her district had been developing its District of Innovation program for two years before applying.

“We were at the point where we had worked with our community partners and we had buy in from our schools and we had specific programs that we had either piloted and were expanding or were ready to start that all could work together to be what we’re calling our Imagineering Academy,” Cheser said.

Cheser said the academy will enable the district to have different courses and different ways for students to demonstrate that they know the content and demonstrate skills in different ways.
 
Students in Boone County’s Imagineering Academy built a playhouse that was given
to a terminally ill young girl. (Photo courtesy of Boone County Schools) 

“With a competency-based and performance-based approach, our students are using personalized learning platforms and work-based experiences to demonstrate knowledge as opposed to just spending 1,070 hours in seats in schools,” she said.

Cheser said the district looked at regional workforce needs so it could “provide opportunities to our students that weren’t currently available, so that it benefits both our community (and) also our students because they have a very specific plan when they get out of school.”

She said early college has been a “critical part” of the Imagineering Academy. The goal is to help students reach college with credit hours (as many as 48) so they will have flexibility to do internships, study abroad or double major. And, Cheser said, students will be more likely to graduate and with less debt.

The middle schools in Boone County now have programs that were inspired by the Imagineering Academy, and Cheser said district officials hope it acts as “an incubator for really great instructional practice and innovative ways to have schooling and student learning” district wide.

She said it wouldn’t be possible without the support of the Boone County school board. “They have supported our risk-taking, they have challenged us to be innovative, they push us to do more and more for kids. They’ve set a vision for this and so that is what has propelled us.”
 
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