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Mercury elementary schools get look inside Missouri's EPiC school

Posted: Jan 19, 2018
Categories: KSDE
Author: Ann Bush

The outside of EPiC Elementary School may look similar to other schools across the country. It is what's inside that draws people to this small school in Liberty, Missouri. 

"When you work is a building where everyone is a rock star, you want to be a rock star, too," said Glenda Monachino, a kindergarten teacher at EPiC, which stands for Every Person Inspired to Create. 

EPiC, now in its fourth school year, receives requests for tours from schools and districts across the United States. 

"We did not look like this the first year," principal Dr. Michelle Schmitz told a group of about 20 people from the Kansas State Department of Education, Tescott Grade School, Twin Valley Unified School District 240; Westview Elementary, Olathe USD 233; and Eisenhower Elementary, McPherson USD 418. "You will grow to this after a few years. This is a journey." 

The three elementary schools, which are all taking part in Kansans Can School Redesign Project: Mercury 7, toured EPiC on Thursday, Jan. 18. Earlier this month, other elementary schools in the Mercury 7 redesign project had an opportunity to tour the school. The tour gave Mercury 7 schools the chance to see some of their ideas in action. 

EPiC's vision is: Empower Creativity. Equip Students. Engage Communities. 

When EPiC announced its opening, there were 300 spots for students from elementary schools across the Liberty Public Schools district. The school received more than 1,000 applications, Schmitz said. Students were selected using a "lottery system" by an outside business. 

The students are broken into "studios" instead of grade levels, and there are two teachers per studio. For example, first-grade students are known as Studio 1 and fifth-grade students are known as Studio 5. The studios fit the theme of inspiring creativity and art, Schmitz said. 

"We consider the world our classroom," said Susan Maynor, EPiC's blended learning coach. 

The school designs project-based learning around Missouri learning standards, Maynor said. School data shows 93 percent of EPiC's students are moving forward. 

"Kids are engaged at high levels, and it is working," Schmitz said. "Standards are embedded in everything they do." 

After touring the school, Mercury 7 elementary school teachers and staff members had an opportunity to sit down with two of EPiC's teachers for a question-and-answer session. 

"I look at it through different lenses when I'm planning," Monachino said about teaching project-based learning. 

She considers real-world connections, shared reading, writing and student choice, she said. 

"I don't teach an objective," Monachino said. "I teach an experience." 

Fifth-grade teacher Deb Caywood agreed, and teachers have to be willing to keep an open mind and do research on their own. 

"Pick up your fork and feed yourself professional development," Caywood said. 

After the tour and question-and-answer session, teachers, administrators and KSDE staff members had a chance to discuss the tour and share ideas. Tammy Mitchell, KSDE's elementary school redesign specialist, facilitated the discussion. 

In other redesign news, Mitchell and Jay Scott, KSDE's secondary redesign specialist, visited Leavenworth USD 453, a Gemini district, where guest speaker Dr. Buddy Berry spoke to district personnel on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2017, for professional development. 

Berry is superintendent of Eminence Independent Schools in Kentucky. Eminence is a small, rural district located about 40 miles east of Louisville, Kentucky. The district has about 850 students. The district was facing a declining enrollment and was struggling with funding. Berry stepped in and the district has since turned around, with an enrollment that has at least doubled. 

"They were able to take a day and just dream," Scott said of Leavenworth's professional development day. "They were able to get outside of the traditional school system. Everything he (Berry) talked about is where we're headed. Leavenworth made a great move to bring in a school leader who is dynamic, passionate and has lived what our redesign schools are undertaking." 

Scott on Wednesday, Jan. 17, visited with Liberal High School and went through a "Vision Walk" with the school. School redesign team members walked Scott around the building and discussed their plans for what the school will look like next school year. Liberal High is developing a flexible-module schedule, which will include 20-minute sessions including large-group study, labs and personalized learning time. Currently, the district is piloting giving students more flexible lunch hours. Students have more choices when it comes to lunch times, what they eat and where they eat in the building, Scott said. 

Scott spent Thursday, Jan. 18, in Stockton at Stockton High School, where the redesign team, like Liberal, is researching a flexible-module schedule. Staff members from Stockton High earlier this month visited Oakes High School, North Dakota, which is about the same size school as Stockton High and utilizes a flexible-module schedule. 

"Again, seeing is believing," Scott said. "They are starting to build schedules for next year." 

Scott and Mitchell had a Zoom meeting with Gemini districts Friday, Jan. 19. Redesign teams from Liberal High School and Meadowlark Elementary, also in the Liberal district, spoke with the Gemini schools and shared their thoughts and ideas. 

"This is the first in a series of seven meetings with Mercury and Gemini schools," Scott said. 

Gemini schools will have an opportunity to hear from McPherson schools Feb. 12; Olathe schools Feb. 16; Stockton schools March 16; Wellington schools March 30; and Coffeyville schools April 13. 

Scott and Mitchell also have been busy preparing for the launch of the Gemini II redesign process, which is the second phase in the school redesign process. Additional information and the application will be available on the KSDE website beginning Feb. 5.


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