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“What’s your most stressful challenge right now?”
This question was posed by Kim Smith, executive director of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, to 250 district leaders and academics at a meeting of the organization a few months before the epidemic.
Participants were asked to respond using a word cloud. Smith remembers looking at the screen in front of the ballroom as soon as the answer comes and a word stands out: Equity.
A national network of school leaders, hearing that equity was the number one challenge facing the districts participating in the league, made it clear to Smith that inclusion could not be an add-on to existing programs, they must be specifically designed to be included.
“We have to invest as a company [in an] Efforts that will allow us to truly focus on projects, initiatives, challenges and research that really center on this concept of inclusive innovation, ”Smith said in an interview.
Smith said he and his colleagues at Digital Promise realized they would need a way to move their work forward by formally supporting districts “at most, from the system to the classroom.”
In October 2020, Digital Commitment launched the Center for Inclusive Innovation as a way to build this support. Smith, now the chief inclusive innovation officer at Digital Promises, is the center’s co-leader. In his letter announcing the new effort, Smith wrote that the center would “focus on creating and exploring models, tools, programs and products that are created and supported by the needs, interests and dreams of black, brown and indigenous people. Students and families.”
Last year, the center selected several districts across the country to pilot four projects: progress in secondary reading and writing for black, Hispanic and low-income students; Creating a diversified educator pipeline designed by color teachers; Creating professional development resources that help educators engage students in ethnic justice discourse and action; And to help districts develop a comprehensive, inclusive strategy to address local issues of their choice. The center’s work involves not only students and academics, but in some cases local grassroots groups and partners from other communities.
Some pilots are nearing completion, such as a secondary reading and writing progression. The center has selected two districts for the project: El Paso, the Socorro Independent School District of Texas, and the Sunnyside Unified School District of Tucson, Arizona.
The Sunnyside district, where about 90 percent of Hispanic students signed up at the start of the epidemic, discovered that many of its ninth-grade students were fighting the demands of recently adopted state standards for the social sciences. Frank McCormick, the district coordinator for social studies guidance at the time, said that these search-based values were a radical change from the content-based values that most students and teachers were accustomed to. Much more emphasis was placed on critical thinking and the search for primary sources.
McCormick said, “Overall, quarter after quarter, we see that ninth grade is a grade level that students struggle most hard to turn even into writing. The center’s pilot “felt like a really good partnership because it would allow us to really explore that question in depth, to really try to find out why ninth graders are struggling so much with this task of search-based writing.”
McCormick, co-director of district work with the center, said the pilot started slowly because of the epidemic but, when it finally launched in 2021, students were involved in the process from the start, a point that district and center leaders emphasized. Students have participated in every stage of the work, from finding the root cause of the writing challenge to developing possible solutions.
“They are very conscious to make sure that students have voices,” McCormick said of the center’s model.
Before starting work at the center, Smith and others co-wrote a report detailing how to scale an inclusive innovation model to digital promise. In it, they explain that “inclusive innovation” unfolds across five steps: connect and commit, search and investigate, design and develop, implement and repeat, and maintain and scale.
In June, SunSide is in the development phase of its project, the third of five steps. And students were a big part of the program. A team of students from the district’s career and technical education programs spent a month working as paid interns to create three prototype solution models that the district hopes to pilot with teachers in the fall. The students, who are planning to pursue a career in teaching, have worked on the project with central and district leaders such as McCormick.
Other pilots in the country are also moving forward. The Bristol Township School District of Pennsylvania, for example, has chosen to focus on students’ mental health and racial trauma, while the Reynoldsburg School District in Ohio focuses on helping teachers engage in equity conversations in the classroom, especially around races. Multiple pilots from several more districts in Pennsylvania and Ohio are participating. The Middletown City School District in Ohio, for example, is part of two projects: building a pipeline for color teachers and creating systemic changes.
McCormick of SunSide said he is optimistic that the effects of the writing project will be long-lasting after the Centre’s direct involvement with the district ends this year. The district is still part of the League of Innovative Schools and will continue to have conversations with other leaders, he said. McCormick, who is now an assistant principal at a district school, said the district will try to make sure that “we have a model that is not only functional that meets the requirements of the problem statement we have addressed, but something that is measurable, so that We can take ownership and develop ourselves. “
Made this story about the Center for Inclusive Innovation Hatchinger report, A non-profit, independent news organization focusing on inequality and innovation in education. For registration Hatchinger’s newsletter