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Redesign specialists, Mercury 7 districts continue visits to schools, research

Posted: Oct 24, 2017
Categories: KSDE
Author: Ann Bush

Kansas State Department of Education’s redesign specialists Jay Scott and Tammy Mitchell began the third Mercury 7 Redesign support cycle on Tuesday, Sept. 26, with a visit to Coffeyville Unified School District 445, followed by Wellington USD 353 on Sept. 27. They traveled to McPherson USD 418 on Sept. 28, followed by trips to Olathe USD 233 on Sept. 29, Twin Valley USD 240 on Oct. 3, Stockton USD 271 on Oct. 4 and Liberal USD 480 on Oct. 5.

On Monday, Oct. 2, Mitchell, along with Stephanie Smith, principal at Kennedy Elementary School, Wellington USD 353, visited EPiC Elementary School in Liberty, Mo.
EPiC, which stands for Every Person Inspired to Create, opened in August 2014 in Liberty Public Schools (LPS).

The idea for EPiC started in the spring of 2013 when LPS began exploring the idea of creativity driving the economics of the future, according to the LPS website. This led to a 20/20 Vision Innovations Team comprised of administrators, teachers, parents and board members.

The team traveled the country visiting successful, innovative schools and talking to experts. The team investigated different school models and conducted a lot of research.

“EPiC is not just a school,” the website states. “But rather an idea, a philosophy, a journey for every person. We believe that children learn in different ways and at different paces. Moreover, we also believe it is essential that all our students are engaged at a deep level or learning.”

Through project-based learning and dynamic teaching, EPiC students explore real-life challenges and create solutions to those problems.

There is only one class per grade level, Mitchell said, and there are 50 students in each classroom. Project-based learning is used to integrate core competencies, and students have the opportunity to learn content standards while doing real work that is relevant to students.

“Kindergarten has explored objects in the sky through stop motion; second graders have designed a butterfly garden; and fourth graders have designed and written proposals for an empty building in downtown Liberty,” the website states. “By partnering with community experts, students have designed real-world solutions to problems in our community such as hunger awareness events, healthy living research and eco-friendly practices without our school, all of which have provided our students and opportunity to engage with real-world learning. Collaboration, critical thinking, communication and creativity are embedded in all our learning processes as they design, create and produce.”

Mitchell visited a first-grade “studio” where two licensed teachers were co-teaching.

“While there are 50 students per classroom, personalization, maximization of technology and co-teaching help to create an energizing and engaging environment that meets the needs of each student,” Mitchell said. “After four years of implementation, EPiC has the academic scores to prove that when students are challenged, engaged and learning on a personal level, it pays off. Students have choice and voice in how, when and where they learn at EPiC/ This is very different than a lot of our elementary schools.”

Back in Kansas, excitement continues about the redesign process, Mitchell said.

“Nearly every district is setting goals and action stages,” she said. “There is a tremendous amount of research going on. This is a lot of work, and it has to be a lot of work for a lot of people. There will be obstacles. But obstacles aren’t road blocks. They are just things to plan for.”
Members of Twin Valley USD 240’s elementary and secondary redesign teams visited Lawrence USD 497.

“They talked about their journey to personalized learning,” KSDE’s Scott said. 

USD 497 said the Mercury 7 districts are on the right track with discussion in the early stages focusing on why they want to redesign, according to Scott. USD 497 started with how they would redesign their district using personalized learning, not why they wanted to redesign.
Personnel from Auburn-Washburn USD 437 also attended the tour with Twin Valley.

The groups first met to have a general discussion about personalized learning. Next, the high school design team visited Free State High School and the elementary redesign team visited Hillcrest Elementary School.

The redesign specialists began visiting districts for the fourth time on Tuesday, Oct. 10. This was their schedule:
•    Monday, Oct. 9: In office
•    Tuesday, Oct. 10: Coffeyville
•    Wednesday, Oct. 11: Wellington
•    Thursday, Oct. 12: McPherson
•    Friday, Oct. 13: Olathe
•    Monday, Oct. 16: In office
•    Tuesday, Oct. 17: Twin Valley
•    Wednesday, Oct. 18: Stockton
•    Thursday, Oct. 19: Liberal
•    Friday, Oct. 20: In office

Mitchell and Scott had a virtual meeting Friday, Oct. 6, with the 21 Gemini Project districts. The Gemini Project districts are required to attend the Zoom virtual meetings.


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