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Two innovation plans OK'd for local schools

Jan. 14, 2010 @ 12:00 AM

CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Board of Education approved the state's first School Innovation Zones at its meeting Wednesday, with $95,000 awarded to two proposals submitted by Cabell County groups.

Eight elementary schools in one Cabell consortium will get a $50,000 grant -- the largest possible and the only plan to receive it -- while Cabell Midland and Huntington high schools and the Cabell County Career Technology Center will receive a $45,000 grant to develop its plans.

The School Innovations Zones Act, adopted last year, encourages pilot projects at schools around the state. The law allows for waivers to certain state laws, rules and policies to give teachers and principals greater local control over the curriculum, schedule and staffing in their schools.

The Cabell County elementary plan includes Martha, Altizer, Southside, Cox Landing, Salt Rock, Peyton, Central City and Davis Creek schools. Its goals are improving student achievement in math and reading, providing regular time for "professional learning communities" and providing flexible delivery of instruction to make content more meaningful to students.

To accomplish professional learning communities, time would be set aside at least once per month for teachers to review relevant data and plan together. During that time, students would be engaged in a purposeful activity provided by school personnel, substitutes or community organizations.

The Cabell County high schools' plan, which was overwhelmingly approved by teachers, calls for personalizing the high school experience and engaging students in new ways. One of the ways to do that, Huntington High Principal Greg Webb said, is allowing students to graduate early. Those students who complete graduation requirements during the first semester of their senior year could graduate but would be required to start college courses during the spring semester.

Another part tied to graduation would be documentation of proficiency in order to receive a diploma. Webb said it could be tied to WESTEST II scores along with students demonstrating the knowledge they've learned during high school.

The next phase of the School Innovation Zones process is for the project teams to design a detailed plan to implement the broad ideas approved by the State Board. In early June, teachers at the schools involved must vote on the implementation plans, with 80 percent approval needed for the plan to be resubmitted to the State Board. If the State Board approves the plans, it will provide any necessary waivers to current state policies. Schools or teams can then launch the plans for the new school year next fall.

Cabell Midland Principal David Tackett said he's not concerned about getting the teachers at the three schools to approve a more detailed plan.

"I think the support will be there because the teachers will be the ones doing the planning," Tackett said. "This is their school more than anyone else's."

Two plans also were approved in Putnam County for Hometown Elementary, $10,900; and a high school consortium of five schools, $24,000. A total of 19 plans from 16 counties were approved.

Applications for funding were evaluated by a committee, which looked at many factors including creativity and innovation; staff commitment; parental and community support; sustainability; and potential for success.

To view the applications submitted by the 19 awardees, visit: http://wvde.state.wv.us/innovationzones/awardsmap.html.