Greenwood School Superintendent John Ciesla said district administrators want to seek the Arkansas Department of Education’s Schools of Innovation designation, and the state will be accepting applications until May 1 for the 2014-15 school year.
Schools of Innovation, enabled by Act 601 of 2013, a bill filed by state Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, creates a way for schools to try new ways of instructing students and allocating resources by receiving waivers on specific state education standards or laws the school can demonstrate is inhibiting what it wants to do.The state commissioner of education must approve those exemptions. And the commissioner approves the four-year School of Innovation designation, and may revoke the designation if the school fails to meet its goals. According to the new law, the commissioner’s decision cannot be appealed.
Ciesla said the school seeking the designation must appoint a council of innovation to generate innovative ideas and proposals, and to determine a method of requesting proposals and ideas from staff, community members and others.
Ciesla said at least 60 percent of the employees in each applicant school building must vote in support of the designation before the school’s plan can be submitted to the school district’s board for approval. Committees will be formed too, of staff, parents and students to seek innovative ideas, he said.
Ciesla said the district would not seek waivers on curriculum. Rather, he said, it would seek waivers that would allow a more flexible school calendar and more flexible schooldays to better cope with things such as snow days and instruction outside the classroom.
"Things that will allow us to innovate the way we need to. … This is really neat because it kind of gives us the opportunity to look at why we do the things we do. … In the past, we blamed the rules and regulations for not allowing things, but this process has been a blessing," Ciesla said, grinning.
According to the new law, a school of innovation plan may request exemptions from local policies and specific laws and rules approved for exemption or modification by the state Board of Education, provided the exemption is necessary to support the plan of innovation.
Act 601 prohibits exemptions from the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act, and mandates that the designated innovative schools comply with the health, safety, civil rights and disability rights requirements that apply to all public schools, that it ensure high school curriculum meets or exceeds the states’ minimum high school graduation requirements, that the school adheres to financial audit requirements, comply with open records and meeting requirements, and comply with state purchasing limits and requirements, and comply with Department of Education reporting requirements.
Act 601 also mandates that the school meets or exceeds the instructional time requirement set the the state Board of Education unless granted an exception by the education commissioner. It states that instructional time may include on-site instruction, distance or virtual learning and work-based learning on nontraditional school days or hours.