Montgomery announces list of ‘Innovation Schools,’part of pilot program for improving achievement

May 14, 2013

Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr on Tuesday announced the first Montgomery County “Innovation Schools,” a list of 10 schools that will work with central office administrators to develop customized plans for improvement.

School officials hope the initiative will offer a more holistic approach to identifying schools that are struggling and then help them work toward closing achievement gaps between different groups of students. Schools made the list not just because of academic measurement or poverty rates but also because of issues surrounding student well-being and community perceptions of the schools.

Depending on the success of the Innovation Schools program, some of the practices that emerge could spread to other county schools. But Starr said school officials will not develop a uniform formula intended for all schools across the system, likening the program to hiring a personal physical trainer.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all process,” Starr said. “You create an individualized plan to accelerate your health and wellness goals.”

Starr said the schools selected have principals willing to take on the task, with many already immersed in improvement plans. Starr identified the following schools as the first to enter the program:

●Clopper Mill, Strathmore and Watkins Mill elementary schools;

●Argyle, A. Mario Loiederman and Montgomery Village middle schools;

●John F. Kennedy, Springbrook and Watkins Mill high schools; and the county’s alternative programs, a collection of six school programs for “middle and high school students who are unsuccessful in their home schools.”

Strathmore Principal Cheryl Smith said becoming an Innovation School will give her extra support as she works to improve how students learn reading and math.

“With the new curriculum, we’re going deeper,” Smith said of Curriculum 2.0, the county’s answer to meeting more rigorous education standards. “We want to make sure we’re going deeper in the right direction.”

Strathmore’s student population is almost 90 percent minority, with a high rate of special education students and students who speak English as a second language, Smith said.

Principal Sam Rivera said he was excited to have experts coach him and his team on the work Springbrook High School has already been doing.

Rivera said he would like to focus on improving SAT scores. He also said he would like to improve the community’s perception of the school, which lags behind neighboring high schools in offering performing arts programs.

“For me, it’s really about being out there in the forefront of school improvement,” Rivera said.

Watkins Mill High School parent Frank Gianfrancesco said the idea of Innovation Schools could be positive in narrowing the achievement gap.

“Some minorities may be bright but they’re disadvantaged,” Gianfrancesco said. “If [the district] is going to provide . . . students what they don’t get at home, that would be a good thing.”

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.
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