Education Matters: Innovation Snapshots

This is what innovation looks like.
This is what innovation looks like.

Winning ideas

Olivia Smith stood in front of a packed audience at McCaw Hall and made her pitch: Vote to support the work of Youth Ambassadors, a peer mentoring program at Seattle's Cleveland High School aimed at supporting high school freshmen who are at risk of dropping out of school.

Smith is a Cleveland High School graduate and former youth ambassador, studying Political Science and Spanish at Seattle University, with the goal of eventually working for the United Nations.

Her pitch was one of several made by the finalists in Social Venture Partners' Fast Pitch competition, which provides mentoring, connections, grants and investments to social innovators and the first-place winner in the competition's youth-led venture category.

Education groups were well represented and ultimately very successful at this event.

The big winner was Actively Learn, developer of an online e-reader that enables teachers to interact with students through a digital text, featuring imbedded Common Core-aligned questions and media and shared peer responses.

Jay Goyal, co-founder, Actively Learn
Jay Goyal, co-founder, Actively Learn

Also honored was Teachers United, a nonprofit organization established in 2011, in which teachers shape education policy, share transformative instructional practices and support peers in leadership roles. They are currently developing a cohort-based leadership institute and a fellowship program connecting early classroom technology adopters with educational technology companies.

Seattle's got talent

Earlier in the day, across town, I met with Paul Apostle, assistant superintendent for Human Resources at Seattle Public Schools (SPS).

Recently back from a gathering of the Urban Schools Human Capital Academy, Apostle described the efforts SPS is making to find, hire and mentor the best talent to be part of Seattle's teacher pool, especially in light of the anticipated additional 1,000 students the District expects to add each year for the foreseeable future.

The non-profit Urban Schools Human Capital Academy (USHCA) is the brainchild of Dr. Elizabeth "Betsy" Arons, a former teacher and veteran human resources administrator in several urban public school districts. Throughout her career, Arons has initiated and implemented human resources reforms designed to align human resources best practices to support school district student achievement goals.

USHCA works with participating school districts over a sustained period, providing opportunities for collaboration and mentorship around critical urban school district staffing issues. Twice a year, USHCA brings together human resources professionals from select urban schools districts around the U.S. to work together and provides follow-up mentoring and support.

Apostle believes this investment will have significant impact.

"We have a robust, expanded hiring team and we're making recruitment a year-long activity," he said. "Our job is to continue to create a culture supporting the best teachers and leadership."

Among his goals is for SPS to undertake a stringent screening process, so that schools will receive the highest caliber candidates to choose from.

The recruitment process is multidisciplinary, added Apostle, utilizing a team approach that goes beyond the human resources department.

Among the resources used to find good teachers, Apostle said SPS is recruiting from the Martinez Foundation, whose mission is to support the teaching careers of students of color and the Seattle Teacher Residency Program, an urban teacher training program modeled after the medical residency, and a unique collaboration between SPS, the Seattle Education Association, the Alliance for Education and the University of  Washington.

Miracle school

The next day, I heard a presentation from Summit Public Schools, a successful operator of five charter high schools and one middle school in California, currently applying for charters to open schools in Tacoma and South Seattle, starting in 2015.

In 2011, Summit Prep Charter, in Redwood City, CA, was among Newsweek's top 10 transformative schools in the U.S., a list compiled from that magazine's annual list of top American high schools.

These transformative, or "miracle," schools are so designated because they show consistent success rates for students from diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.

Personalized learning is a hallmark of Summit's program. Teachers organize curriculum through Activate Instruction, a free online content management tool, with grade-level specific subject learning resources developed and shared by teachers.

Teachers and students create interactive personalized "playlists," that draw from a wide variety of free sources, tailored to a student's interests and needs.

Innovation is all around.

This week ParentMap is launching Idea Lab, a periodic feature, in which we'll highlight novel ideas in education.

Check out the first installment, in which author and educator Will Richardson asks why learning needs to be confined to the four walls of the school room.

Got an education idea that intrigues you, or one you've always wondered about putting into practice?

Let us know.

Education news

Getting to the Core: Issaquah Public Schools is offering workshops for families interested in learning more about the new Common Core State Standards.  The first meeting is Monday, November 18 at 7:00. Additional meetings will be held on November 21 and December 4. More information is available here.

Legislative package: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn has asked the legislature for an additional $544 in education funding beyond what has already been allocated for the 2013-2015 biennium. The Supreme Court has imposed a 2017 deadline for the state to fully fund K-12 education. Dorn feels the current budget allocation falls short of meeting the goal of a "down payment" on the state's obligation. Much of the additional funding he is requesting would go towards increasing the number of schools offering free, full-day kindergarten and reducing class sizes in grades 2-3.

More full-day K: Seattle Public Schools will offer free, full-day kindergarten at 16 additional schools, for a total of 43 schools in the district offering this all-day, no-cost option. Some other schools may see a reduction in the cost of full-day kindergarten. A full list of schools offering payment-free kindergarten is available here.

Boundary decision: The Seattle School Board meets Wednesday, November 20 to vote on proposed new enrollment boundaries.

Alison Krupnick is ParentMap's Education Editor and the author of the book Ruminations from the Minivan, musings from a world grown large, then small and the blog Slice of Mid-Life.

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