Guest column: Innovation Zone is a good moveI recently sat down with Farmington schools superintendent Jay Haugen to learn more about an opportunity that the district is pursuing. The Farmington School Board recently approved the district’s application to become designated an Innovation Zone.
By: Dave Thompson, The Farmington Independent
I recently sat down with Farmington schools superintendent Jay Haugen to learn more about an opportunity that the district is pursuing. The Farmington School Board recently approved the district’s application to become designated an Innovation Zone. The application was submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education on Jan. 31, 2013. MDE has until April 1, 2013, to act. Since my meeting with superintendent Haugen, I have reviewed the district’s application, as well as an informational video entitled “A New Design for Education.” I am writing to express my support for this important project.
The Senate district I represent is blessed with high-ranking schools. We have fantastic dedicated teachers, administrators and staff. I believe the Farmington Innovation Zone experiment will allow our teachers to do an even better job for our students, and perhaps lead the way for needed changes in underperforming schools across the state.
Today’s teachers face many challenges, but two seem to stand out. First, the “one size fits all” teaching method does not work well for all children, and prevents many students from reaching their potential. Education professionals acknowledge that each student has a unique learning style, just as each has different academic skills, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. The Innovation Zone concept is meant to address this very issue.
Inno-vation Zone schools would allow teachers to take advantage of technology to implement teaching plans that meet the needs of each individual, rather than following a set formula. A student will not be moved along from grade to grade regardless of whether the subject matter has been mastered. Rather, advancement will come as the student acquires knowledge and becomes proficient at assigned tasks. In other words, advancement will be performance based rather than attendance based.
The second challenge to be addressed is government rules that stifle innovation and adaptation at the local level. State and federal laws and regulations often get in the way of new ideas, individualized curricula and experimentation. I believe strongly in making classroom teachers, parents and local officials the driving force in education. Demographic differences make it very difficult to create good policy at the state or federal level. Legislators and bureaucrats in St. Paul would do well to meet the constitutional requirement to provide a “ … general and uniform system of public schools,” while allowing districts the autonomy to tailor their systems to serve the local community.
Bureaucracies such as MDE tend to resist letting go and allowing projects such as this one be given a fair chance. I hope you will call MDE as well as Governor Dayton’s office and let the administration know how important this project is for Farmington and the entire state. I sincerely hope this project is approved, and that MDE allows teachers and administrators in Farmington the freedom to fully implement the program.
We are fortunate to live in an information age that literally provides our students with access to information from around the world. It would be a shame not to take advantage of this to help us transform our schools. Please support superintendent Haugen and the Farmington School Board in their courageous effort to be an even better district and perhaps pave the way for thousands of other students throughout Minnesota.
Senator Dave Thompson is Assistant Minority Leader