Next Wednesday, the School Committee will be holding a public hearing on a proposed innovation plan for the O'Maley Middle School.
Approval by the School Committee of the proposal would, in fact, establish the O'Maley Middle School as an innovation school. This procedure follows a vote taken by the O'Maley faculty in late May approving the innovation plan by more than two-thirds (a state requirement).
An innovation school is a public school that can exercise increased autonomy and flexibility within the context of its district. Innovation schools represent a chance for local school committees, in cooperation with superintendents, teachers, unions, parents, outside partners and others, to internally charter their own schools.
State law, MGL Chapter 71, Section 92 gives traditional schools and educators the chance to develop their own direction (still based on the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks) in six possible areas (curriculum, budget, schedule and calendar, staffing, professional development, and district policies).
This initiative represents both a challenge and an opportunity for us to implement innovative practices within a traditional public school setting.
The goals of the innovation school are intended to engage the staff and administration in a more collaborative effort designed to advance student learning and school performance. The idea behind innovation schools is that they will allow for deeper engagement in core subjects (this includes the arts), more enrichment activities, particular instructional themes or areas of focus, and freedom from certain district rules.
Some of the elements of the O'Maley Middle School Innovation Plan include the following:
How teachers teach: One of the major elements of the Innovation Plan calls for establishing more extensive project-based learning across the entire school. Project-based learning calls upon teachers to facilitate active work from students to a greater degree than more traditional, direct methods of instruction.
How the curriculum is directed: For this first year, we will be creating two interdisciplinary themes per grade. The different subject areas will, by choice, either create one project, or a series of smaller, related projects that reinforce a central idea or theme that is the basis for each of the interdisciplinary projects.
What's expected of students: With the concerted effort on project-based learning across the subject areas, we hope to develop in our students a greater involvement in the work that they do. Projects do not just call upon students to provide a simple correct answer. Rather, they must demonstrate proficiency, that they can develop and implement an idea or a plan well.
School governance: The innovation plan calls for a Teachers Advisory Committee to actively work alongside administration. This committee will meet periodically to openly discuss and decide upon the important issues that affect the school. Minutes of the meetings will be recorded and shared with the entire faculty so that the net effect will be an increase in policy determination, communication, and implementation.
What can students and parents expect from the school? How will it change in the immediate future? Again, a schoolwide focus on project-based learning will unify significant elements of the curriculum so that different subject areas will reinforce the learning that is taking place in all subjects.
Students should increasingly see the interrelationships between what they learn in each subject and the topics under investigation. In addition, we are looking at full-scale remediation strategies in mathematics. Attendance policies are also under review in the plan. And, gradually we will be looking to incorporate more technology into instruction.
If you are interested in hearing more, please join us at the School Committee meeting on Wednesday, June 13.
Richard Safier is superintendent of the Gloucester Public Schools.