NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 19, 2013

'Innovation Schools' to be implemented at Pentucket

BY JENNIFER SOLIS
CORRESPONDENT

---- — WEST NEWBURY — In an effort to shape its educational programs to better fit the interests and needs of its students, the Pentucket Regional School District has decided to adopt a key component of Gov. Deval Patrick’s Achievement Gap Act of 2010.

At a meeting of the Pentucket School Committee held on Tuesday, Superintendent Jeffrey Mulqueen identified the designing and planning for the implementation of Patrick’s “ Innovation Schools “ as one of his four top strategic priorities for the school year.

What Mulqueen describes as “a school within a school,” an Innovation School offers face-to-face instruction while providing room for creativity and flexibility within curriculum, staffing, scheduling, budgeting, professional development and policy making.

According to the state’s website, these schools are “in-district, charter-like public schools that employ inventive strategies and creative approaches to education while keeping school funding within districts.”

But unlike charter schools, which report directly to the state, these schools report to the superintendent and the school board and must adhere to most provisions of the teachers’ union contract.

Mulqueen said the program is in the planning stages at Pentucket and will hopefully be implemented next year. He is still researching the state protocols he needs to follow to establish the locally run program and any possible grant money available to help with its design and implementation.

According to the state’s website, $2 million in funding for Innovation School planning and implementation grants is supported by the federally sponsored Race to the Top program and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Under the plan, the district’s current curriculum would be considered “core” and the Innovation School would be like “a concentration” in a particular area that serves as “a stepping-stone to college and career readiness,” Mulqueen explained.

At the secondary level, Mulqueen plans to pilot three Innovation Schools: “Animation and Special Effects,” “Safety and Public Service” and “Athletics and Movement Science.” He worked with students last year to determine which areas of concentration to focus on in this initial year.

This year three pilot classes, one from each area of concentration, are being offered: a class in Character Sculpting, one in Safety and Public Service and another in Movement Science. All students in the Public Service and Movement classes were just recently CPR certified, the superintendent said.

“We’re also hoping to include the elementary schools in the Innovation initiative … with a focus on International Baccalaureate (IB) and possibly a STEM-related focus on a Design and Engineering School,” Mulqueen noted after the meeting. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

He views the Innovation Schools alternative as a way to provide the kind of dynamic learning opportunities that meet his “world-class” vision for Pentucket and ensure the district remains an attractive educational option for students and families.

Another second priority strategy targets improvements to teaching and learning that integrate challenging standards, adaptive leadership skills and high levels of personal meaning.

Mulqueen contends that “all students must be able to apply — rather than simply assimilate — knowledge. Students’ successful futures depend upon their application of knowledge and refined leadership skills. They must be able to communicate, collaborate, learn independently, think strategically and think outside-the-box.”

To this end, teachers will have access to a resource called Net Texts, a 21st-century tool offering open source text, original documents, graphics and video.

Mulqueen noted that as an additional benefit, Net Texts will eventually lead to the elimination of textbooks in the classrooms and funds targeted for that expense can be reinvested elsewhere.

The other two strategic priorities are:

a three-tiered learning system that offers an appropriate level of challenge for each student

The implementation of a new peer-based educator evaluation process that empowers teachers by giving them more of a say in the decisions that impact their classrooms.

“You can’t create the future by clinging to the past. Learning in the 21st century requires us all to think differently and work together,” Mulqueen stressed.