/Pilot programs help school districts explore education innovation

Pilot programs help school districts explore education innovation

Students in Vicksburg’s junior high are navigating a robot through a series of cones while others in the room are preparing for college. Vicksburg Warren School district’s efforts are part a pilot program that exempts them and two other districts from certain state laws. This allows schools to be more creative in addressing achievement gaps, especially between students of low socioeconomic status and those of white or minority backgrounds. Chad Shealy, Vicksburg Warren Superintendent, said that they are looking to create an employable mindset. He also mentioned that there have been internship opportunities available for students who want to make connections in the workplace. He said that it was important for students to have these connections with organizations and companies while still in school. He said that students can possess the competence and not have access to the relationships that lead to jobs or interviews. This is one of the many things that this particular mindset helps to achieve. Vicksburg, which is a D-rated school district received nine waivers from state laws. Shealy believes that two are the most important. He explained that one is the ability to bring a retired engineer into the classroom and make them a math teacher. He said that the waiver allows teachers to teach more students than 150. Shealy stated that one of the chemistry teachers will be teaching a class in biomedical, but they also want to offer a pre-school AP Physics class. The state’s current law prohibits teachers from teaching more than 150 students per day. However, the waiver allows Vicksburg teachers the freedom to supervise more students. This waiver allows the teacher to teach the class before school. Shealy stated that waivers were not necessary for many of the things the district wanted. It asked the Mississippi Department of Education for permission to allow students to take online classes and allow the district more Carnegie units at the junior-high level. This would allow students to graduate in two years of college and receive a high school diploma within four years. The waivers process was liberating in itself. We were forced to reevaluate our policy and reflect on what we want. Shealy said that educators have a tendency to impose certain shackles on themselves. They do this because it’s what their family has done. The STEM-focused Academy of Innovation junior school was established in 2015, before the district was approved for this program. The academy’s robotics class will give eighth graders one ninth grade credit. They will participate in a robotics contest and learn computer programming. Peyton McKenzie, eighth grader, said that she and her classmates built a robot to draw a circle on paper. The robot was part of the Lego robots competition. Students are currently designing greenhouses for the plants they’re growing in science classes. McKenzie said, “We are designing and making videos to show what our greenhouses look like. Then we will decide together which one to use.” Logan Lane, an eighth grader from the Academy of Innovation, hosts weekly sportscasts upstairs in his digital media class. It’s more engaging and fun. Lane describes the school’s classes as “more hands-on and projects.” High school graduation with college credit. A group of nine- and ten-year-olds will be taking classes at Hinds Community College. Vicksburg Warren teachers will teach them in preparation for college-level courses. All students are encouraged to complete this program as part of a district-wide effort to earn an associate’s degree or two years of college credits, or a career technology certificate. This year, River City Early College High School enrolled 60 ninth graders. Lucy DeRossette (district’s director for innovation), said, “It’s also not just for elite.” We want it for every child who wants this chance. All of them went through an interview process. The only thing that would prevent them from enrolling was poor attendance or discipline problems.” DeRossette also noted that there are students with special needs at the school. The high school will expand each year to include 9th-12th graders. Vicksburg had its STEM-focused Academy of Innovation in science, technology engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the previous year. The junior high has 300 students in 7th and 8th grades and plans to expand beyond its current capacity. Shealy stated that Vicksburg’s STEM focus is especially important because it houses the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, (ERDC), which is one of the most prestigious engineering and scientific research institutions in the world. The high school’s 10th graders will be able to choose a career path for the first time this year. There are four pathways: Architecture, Construction, Mechatronics and Engineering (ACME), Communications, Arts and Business, Health and Human Services, and Health and Human Services. “The teachers make an English class that may have been boring for a young man more interesting to them. If I was teaching 9th grade English, and had to teach Romeo & Juliet. DeRossette said that if I were teaching in the ACME academy, I would teach with an extra emphasis on the Globe Theater’s design and construction. “If I was teaching health and human sciences, we’d talk about the drugs and herbs the couple used. If communications, arts, and business were the subjects, we would ask: “What did the Montagues or Capulets do that made them so rich?” In 2013, the graduation rate in the district was just above 58 percent. It rose to 69% in 2016, a 33% increase from 2015. Shealy blames this on students not finding school relevant or having meaningful relationships at school with adults. He created career academies in high schools to help students find the right curriculum. Each student meets with a mentor once per day. Innovation in Corinth Corinth requested a waiver to allow the district to hire teachers without standard educator licenses. According to Superintendent Lee Childress there are currently three of these teachers in the district. They are experts in engineering, advanced science, career and tech biomedical sciences, and they also teach. Childress said, “It’s really great because they can apply those experiences from the career to create real-life simulations in the classroom that better engages children in learning.” Corinth has also shared a modified school calendar with the community since it was first shared two years ago. The school year begins in June and ends in March. Students have a three-week break between October and March, during which they can participate in enrichment and remediation activities. Childers stated that approximately 600 students from kindergarten through 12th grades participated in the October break activities. All students are welcome to enrichment classes that focus on project-based learning. Corinth high school students will have more options to graduate. There are seven possible diplomas in the district, including one for honors and one for those who have completed a work-based experience or internship. One for students who earn four credits from Advanced International Certificate of Education exams. The district of innovation program was also offered to Gulfport School District, but Mississippi Today was not able to get details. Moving forward, the Mississippi Department of Education stated that it will examine each district’s results to ensure that best practices are shared across the state. Jean Massey (the state’s executive director for secondary education), said that if any of the results suggests that all school districts would be benefitted from changes in state requirements, then the department will consider making those requests. Each district has its own goals, including a goal to increase ACT and SAT scores, graduate, dual credit and less remediation. Each year, the district submits an annual status report that highlights its achievements. At the end, they can apply again for the status after a further five years. Massey stated that the department had met with more districts interested to apply for innovation status. These applications are due by November. Interviews will be held in January._x000D