When one mentions the word school, what comes to mind? Typically, this word carries a great deal of weight accompanied by mixed emotions, connected to numerous memories of our own experiences years ago. School may immediately generate a series of pictures, like a slideshow playing in your mind of your friends- those who the shared playground equipment with you at recess, sat next to you in class, maybe someone who was waiting daily at the same bus stop or that teammate who played with you on your high school’s basketball team. Your thoughts may be defined by memories of a favorite teacher or coach, or another adult who played a meaningful role in defining your journey. You might be think about your principal and the presence of school leaders in and around the building. For a number of years now, many of my parent meetings begin with these individuals sharing their personal stories and memories about their experience as a middle school student. Unfortunately, too often these flashbacks are negative, as the parent’s memories are not of a welcoming, inspiring environment staffed with engaged, enthusiastic staff. Only a limited number actually share positive, uplifting stories wiith me as they recall this chapter from their past. Throughout my career, I have been committed to ensuring that the memories our students leave with are positive, inspiring and meaningful, and that when they recall their days as Griffins and Dolphins, they remember the support of numerous teachers, classrooms full of challenging, exciting lessons and assignments and an environment that felt like “home.”
When reflecting on how one would best describe innovation, the concept begins with envisioning a dynamic, engaging, inclusive school setting that invites the ideas and energy of educators, parents, community members and, most significantly, students. This landscape encourages non-traditional thinking and invites all to be recognized as relevant and important. This is not a scholastic setting that only celebrates our highest achievers or most prominent voices. In the authentically innovative environment, each individual is aware of his or her avenue to contribute, to grow, to question and to flourish, as a variety of methods are provided to meet the needs of all learners. Introduced in 2008, The Innovation Act LINK was created in an effort to empower educators, parents, community members and students to develop unique models that better serve each learner in a personalized manner by increasing both pliability and the educational options viewed as permissible in and beyond the classroom. The Act states, “Furthermore, in tailoring the delivery of educational services, the Act specifies that the principal and the faculty employed at the school should have the maximum degree of flexibility possible to determine the most effective and efficient manner in which to meet their students’ needs.”
The Innovation Act allows schools to provide unique programming, such as extending the academic day and offering social-emotional opportunities that further students’ holistic growth and development. Frequently, we are misclassified as a charter school, and I quickly correct this misconception and clarify the marked distinction between Innovation status and the independent world of charter education. Well we see the school setting through a unique lens, we simultaneously partner with multiple district departments and structures that allow us to remain under the larger DPS’s umbrella. We benefit from our connection to the larger district, while fully utilizing the agreed-upon flexibilities and autonomies in ways that more specifically meet the needs of those we serve. We are not hindered or limited by cumbersome, all-inclusive practices and protocols, and yet we are able to maximize the services and systems DPS offers that would prove costly and inaccessible to us as a small, multi-site network. It is through our innovation status that we are able to most effectively meet students where they are at on a daily basis, empowering them and prompting them forward with techniques and tools that most immediately and purposefully generate academic growth and engagement.
Be. Creative. Be. Intentional. Be. Innovative. Be. Beacon. . .