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Farmington schools: Taking new step in education

Former Akin Road Elementary School principal Laura Pierce has been named as the new Innovation Zone director for Farmington School District 192.

Becoming principal at Akin Road Elementary School two years ago was a step for Laura Pierce. It turns out, that move was just a step in a new direction for her.

Last month, Pierce stepped down as principal at ARES, and stepped into her new role as Innovation Zone director for the Farmington School District. It's a newly-created position in the district, and Pierce is excited to take on the challenges that come with the role. She talked with us earlier this week and shared a little insight into her new position.

Your title now is Innovation Zone director. What does that mean?

Basically my role is going to be supporting innovative practices that we're going to be looking at creating throughout our whole district. Farmington and Spring Lake Park were designated Innovation Zone this past school year. We have a lot of possibilities and potential ahead as part of that designation. I have been brought on board and was asked to help support these possibilities across the entire district.

What is that support going to look like, or how are you going to do that?

As the director I will be working with the entire district as we start to look at the next phase of the strategic plan. The district strategic plan team will be meeting in August. I am a part of that and I will be really looking at what are the possibilities that come about within that plan, and how I can support and move the district forward within that plan.

Will you be working with students still, or will you be working more with staff, or a little bit of both?

I hope to see myself supporting everybody. Students are my passion, obviously, so I look forward to working with students directly, but what that will look like yet is still to be determined. I think more of my support will be lending help to teachers, all staff, administration, and district. Being a new position, it's still being clearly defined, which is, I think, one of the most exciting pieces about it for me, because that's part of who I am. I don't always like to wake up in the morning and say, "This is what I'm going to do." I'm a person who's driven by possibility, and so Innovation Zone really speaks to who I am.

When was this position created? Was it part of the Innovation Zone designation?

I think, from what I know, talking with the superintendent and others at the district level, it really came about when we started to realize there were a plethora of all of these new state mandates that are coming down on districts. Not only do we have this Innovation Zone designation, we've got our strategic plan out there, you have all of these other mandates out there that are coming to us. You've got the birth to 3, the all-day K, we have targeted services things that have to take place, you have Q Comp, teacher and principal evaluation, all these additional things that are coming down and it's a matter of how do we help and support and make sure that we do a really great job for everything that's ahead of us.

This seems like an entirely different step (in technology) for the district.

There are new things within our strategic plan that we want students to try. We want to develop students and spark some passion. We want to develop students that are college-ready. We want to develop students that are critical thinkers, collaborative workers. We want to know students are ready for the 21st century. What does that truly look like in our classrooms? Right now we have technology that is available and accessible to the majority of our students 24/7 during the school year. We envision seeing that more of our students will have 24/7 access in the future.... That's a tool that's accessible for them. Kids know that tool. Technology is part of who they are and how they function in our world, which is much different than the way we grew up. We look at it maybe as something new, but they don't. Part of my role is to help and support teachers with this new way of redesigning our schools, redesigning what our classrooms look like. Recreating teaching more into facilitated learning in our classrooms.

What kind of training did you have for this?

Really, (the offer) came about for me because in talking with superintendent (Jay) Haugen, he said he needed someone who deeply understands our strategic plan. He needs someone with great communication skills, the ability to do research. He needs someone who has a very high level of understanding of our elementary education because of all of the support I will be providing through all of the different mandates that have come to us as a district. I'm very detail oriented. I follow up. I want to make sure that we're doing the best that we can for our students and our community. A lot of times you get that tap on the shoulder for a leadership position, and Jay saw something in me. I feel very blessed that he saw that I have the skills to take this position.

When did you start this position?

July 1. I tell people my passion is with children, in the building. But that's today. I don't think any of us know what lies in our future, just like I never saw any of this ahead of me when I came to Akin Road. That is where I saw myself. This is a new possibility, a new door opened up for me, and I'm very excited about it.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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