Document 11044987

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Page 12
September 17, 2010
www.statejournal.com
Innovation Zone Experiment Launches With School Year
ByWALT WILLIAMS
[email protected]
A classroom without textbooks might
sound like every student's dream come
true, but at Berkeley Heights Elementary School in Martinsburg it's a new
way ofteaching.
Two of the school's six third-grade
classrooms are forgoing textbooks in
scienceand social studies for what staff
there describe as a more "problembased" method of instruction. Instead
they will use non-fiction and fiction
novels, laptops, online tools and field
trips to gather information-and apply
that info to problems that test students'
critical thinking skills.
The goal is to have students in the
test groups attain 2 percent greater
increases in reading and math scores
and 5 percent increases in science andsocial science scores on the annual
WESTEST than their peers.
The program is an experiment, so
one might expect parents would be reluctant to enroll their children as test
subjects. But Principal Amber Boeckmann said the opposite actually happened.
"Really, the only negative we have
had are parents who wanted their kids
in the classroom who are not in the
classroom," she said.
Berkeley Heights is one of a handful of schools in West Virginia taking
part in the state's "innovation zone"
program for the first time this year.
The brainchild of Gov. Joe Manchin's
administration, the program allows
school districts to bend - and even
break - state rules regulating education in return for improved student
achievement.
In that way the innovation zone program resembles charter school programs seen in other states. It differs
in that it allows a public school only to
bend a specific rule or a small number
of rules, whereas charter schools often
are exempted from a host of regulations.
State law provides no process for
the creation of charter schools in West
Virginia, a situation that looks unlikely to change anytime soon given
opposition to the idea by teachers'
unions and many state lawmakers.
State officials are instead hedging
their bets on innovation zones giving schools the flexibility that some
within the system say they need to be
successful.
The first round of innovation zone
awards were announced earlier this
year by the state Board of Education,
although the schools didn't begin implementing the proposals until the beginning of the current school year in
August. Nineteen schools and school
consortiums in 16 counties were declared innovation zones.
The recipients also received grants
up to $50,000 to help implement their
programs. In the case of Berkeley
Heights, the money was used to purchase technology and reading material.
Putting expensive technology in
the hands of third-graders may sound
like a destructive situation, but Boeckmann said the students actually seem
to place more value in the equipment
than adults.
"They are more careful about damaging the equipment because they love
with students, Innovation Zone coordinator Donna Peduto said. But no
matter what they proposed, they had to
spell out how they intended to measure
the effectiveness of what they were
- Amber Boeckmann'
doing a factor that will be stressed
even more in the second phase of the
Other schools are exploring other program.
"They are going to have to show hoc
programs to meet their individual
needs. Braxton County High School they are going to measure the imp
.
wants to give students routes to grad- on student achievement," Pedu1
State officials expect it w
uation that focus on 21st century job
skills. The Putnam County High three to fiVE/. years before tho
Schools Consortium has created judge 'whetfi9r many of the pr,
"freshman transition programs" to launched under innovation
meet the needs of specific students and successful. In the meantime,
help them stay in school until gradua- board is planning to awae
the second round of in
tion.
Most schools sought more flexibility vation· zone. grants i
with state-set school calendars to give January, wij:)i .applicathem more time to effectively work tions due in December.
"They are more careful about
damaging the equipment
because they love using it,"
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Berkeley Heights is experimenting
with a new classroom methodology
because as a school where 74 percent
of students are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced lunches, its
students don't have access to the resources many of their counterparts
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