The Minnesota Department of Education has granted Spring Lake Park School District 16, along with the Farmington School District, an initial designation to partner in a pilot project as an Innovation Zone.
Jeff Ronneberg, superintendent of District 16, said the designation “recognizes the work already taking place within the Spring Lake Park schools and the infrastructure and practices that have already been established for continuous improvement.
“Secondly, this designation now opens the door to further innovation, potentially removing some of the mandates or mind sets that sometimes interfere with change and innovation.”
The IZ, approved by the Legislature last year, is a collaboration between districts. The idea is to partner with another district to look at innovative ways of improving student learning.
The unfunded project offers more flexibility and frees up the partnering districts from some state mandates. An example would be a licensed teacher with a passion and skill for a certain subject, but not licensed in that particular subject, would be able to work with students.
As an IZ, Spring Lake Park and Farmington school districts would design a continuous progress system, allowing students to learn at their own pace, for instance.
The five-year initiative is teacher driven and allows for more creativity among staff, according to Ronneberg.
Initially, the two superintendents will meet with MDE Commissioner Brenda Cassellius to clarify parameters and expectations. Another step may be sending out requests for proposals to teachers, seeking their designs for personalization and change, Ronneberg said.
“The ideas and dreams of our staff, for how they can personalize and customize learning for our students, is ultimately what will drive innovation,” he said.
The districts’ application to become an IZ included a video titled “A New Design for Education,” calling for a fundamental redesign in today’s education model. The new model customizes learning, connects learning to students’ passions and ensures excellence and equity for all students.
The two districts are already collaborating on transforming learning through personalized, digital learning initiatives. All students in the Farmington School District have iPads, while students in District 16’s grades two through 12 have been assigned iPads or iPad minis. Early childhood students and first-graders have access to iPod Touches in their classrooms.
“Ultimately, we want to see each of our students experiencing success while they are in the Spring Lake Park schools, so they see no limits to what they can do with their future beyond our walls,” Ronneberg said.
Cassellius wrote in a statement, “We can all learn from your districts as you implement your Innovation Zone proposal…. It is our goal to highlight the work you accomplish so other districts may learn methods to work together and replicate best practices developed in your collaboration,” according to a story on the Innovation Zone on SLP District 16’s website.
Elyse Kaner is at firstname.lastname@example.org