Monday, November 28, 2011

Innovative School Design

Guiding Principles for an innovative school design

“We are still trying to develop both the philosophy as well as a system of education which really does respect the intelligence and abilities of ordinary people” – James Anderson
The time is now for positive solutions to achieve whole child reform that truly serves all children and even some adults. It is time to develop schools within the traditional public school setting that allow teachers to teach and students to learn.  The incentive to develop such a school is the freedom for educators to take back their profession.  Erase from your mind how schools are spozed to be and think about how schools can be to serve all kids.   
Please relate suggestions to the system and philosophy of education and leave politics and finances for another time.  Here are some thoughts on the development of a category of schools called innovative schools:
1.     Innovative schools will be exclusive to the traditional public school system.

2.     Innovative schools will have fair enrollment practices and will maintain responsibility for all students in their charge.  Students will all come into school as “students” not branded with preconceived notions.  The school will take all “comers” without selectivity and will be monitored for this.

3.     Innovative schools will blend the current state standardized test into approved pre and post tests.  Information from these assessments must be valuable to the education of students and be teacher approved. (Most schools are already doing the pre and post tests.)  With short and concise assessments, individual student progress will be the defining characteristic.  i.e. 76% of the students will gain 1 year or more in reading.  In determining overall student achievement, the PCR (the proficiency completion rate) will be the primary source followed by a wide variety of in school assessments.  The PCR is determined by the number of proficiencies demonstrated.  These proficiencies are developed locally and are in the student’s action plan.  To assure no singular high stakes test is used to damage kids, the pre and post test will carry less weight than the PCR and local assessments. 

4.     Innovative schools will develop a plan to fully involve all parents, as full partner’s, through constant contact and empowerment.   Parent members of all committees will be a vehicle to assure all voices are heard.  They will not speak for the parents but will survey all parents on a regular basis for input on essential school decisions.  A parity chart will be developed to identify parent roles in each portion of school operations.

5.     Innovative schools will develop a teacher evaluation plan that recognizes teaching as a team activity, supports teacher improvement and holds teachers responsible for a quality education program.  Student outcomes are rarely attributed to a single educator making it difficult to determine singular responsibility.  In addition there are many variables that determine the academic success of the student.   However, within the class, opportunities for the student to advance must exist and, under this new system, advancement of all students is a teacher team expectation.

6.     Innovative schools will be evaluated on inputs and outcomes.  Given the freedom to take students from “where they are” schools then will be responsible for true academic achievement based on individual goals. Every student moves forward from where they are.  The truest indicator of achievement is the PCR or Proficiency Completion Rate.  Student success on these demonstrated proficiencies will carry the most weight on a school evaluation.  Additional assessments may be developed on the local level.  Pre and post tests, being only a snap shot in time, will carry less weight thus eliminating the concept of an artificial high stake test.  Additional outcomes must be verifiable.  For example, to assure accuracy on graduation rates, every student must be tracked from enrollment to the time they leave the school, including the true reason they leave.  Inputs include innovative measures designed to promote a quality education for all, such as a quality academic report, exploratory workshops and a strong early elementary support system.   

7.     Innovative schools will have an action plan for every student allowing them to progress from “where they are” on their pathway to success.  This plan will cover all aspects of the student’s educational life.  Given that students learn in different ways, an active curriculum, necessary to the success of students, will allow for learning through projects, community experiences, technology as well as a wide range of authentic activities allowing students to explore their ideas and discover solutions.  Regardless of student obstacles, expectations for the highest individual progress will be maintained.  All special needs will be addressed as part of the daily routine as all students are different. Student needs will determine time frames while Carnegie units will not be a consideration and outcomes will override minutes of seat time.  Students will progress by demonstrating proficiencies charted by the PCR rather than outdated grade levels.

8.     Innovative schools will develop goals that will take students to levels that provide readiness for higher education, a quality vocation as well as social, emotional and economic success in their community and home.  These goals will reflect the needs of the whole child in the community from local to global to the Earth’s galaxy and beyond.  Students will remain connected to their culture as their background is the base for their learning.   
9.     Innovative schools will let students, on an individual basis, progress as rapidly through proficiencies as they are able, be they faster or slower.  Maintaining high expectations, failure becomes a positive step toward learning and higher education becomes a partner to meet student needs as they develop through their pathway to success.  As students blossom at different times, it is an essential part of the concept of innovation that students are allowed to advance through the system by demonstrating proficiencies without the fear of catastrophic failure.  Students must clearly demonstrate proficiencies before moving on.  However, failure must be a positive learning experience leaving the opportunity to self correct at the earliest possible moment

10. Innovative schools will develop an academic progress report that tells parents and/or students what they have learned and what they will learn.  This will be directly connected to their action plan.  Statements of learning will replace letter grades to truly inform students, parents and, eventually, universities of their accomplishments.

11. Innovative schools will introduce all students to skills that require higher learning.  These exploratory workshops will be presented in a manner that is clear to all students as they may then determine how to follow their dreams without preconceived notions.  Enrollment in these workshops is solely based on student interest.  No assessment will be given.

12. Innovative school locations will include traditional as well as other sites allowing students of any age to complete their traditional diploma.  This includes partnerships with higher education, businesses, community agencies, unions, job corp. etc.

13. Innovative schools will team with a community learning center with emphasis on early childhood health related issues as well as a wide range of learning experiences and support systems making the school the center of the community.

Supporters of this level of reform must be prepared.  Those who do not support the agenda of children will attack you with every fiber of their being.  If your hearts and minds are for children, you will prevail.

For more detailed ideas refer to our book Saving Students From A Shattered System, Igniting The Passion For learning.  By Cap Lee and Mary Gale Budzisz


  1. Thanks for drawing my attention to this, Cap. Many of your points resonate with my most recent post about lifting the teaching profession. I particularly like the call for inclusiveness in your innovative school concept. I am curious what exactly constitutes your PCR. It appears to be central to the accountability system you outline?

  2. I think innovative schools should maintain an environment that nurtures childhood.