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Strategic plan is at core of proposed Farmington school

The finer details of the Farmington School District’s proposed new 100-student school of choice are still up for debate, but the beliefs at is core are well established. They’re part of the district’s strategic plan, a document the district created to guide its development.

It was as part of an ongoing discussion about how to bring that plan into the classroom that the idea to create a new kind of school first came up.

Working under that plan, the new school, if it opens next fall, will encourage students to learn by creating projects. It will turn teachers from lecturers at the front of the room to facilitators who help students figure out what they need to know, then point them in the right direction to find the information. It will reach out to the community for resources. It might even do away with the notion of students advancing through grade levels year by year, instead allowing them to progress at their own pace.

The school, which will likely focus on kindergarten through eighth grade and maybe only fourth through sixth at the start, will not be a magnet for the district’s advanced students. There will likely be a lottery to select students from those who apply.

The people planning the school believe students of any level can benefit from the ideas they hope to put into action.

“What we hope is that students would be able to develop a project that also encapsulates their passion, their interests, their spark,” said Laura Pierce, the district’s innovation zone director.

So, instead of filling in a worksheet about, say, World War II, students might find veterans to interview and create a presentation that fits their own interests. A student who is big on computers might create a video, while one who prefers to write might script a play.

Some of that is already happening in Farmington schools. The introduction of iPads to the classroom has opened doors for new forms of teaching like flipped classrooms, in which students watch recorded lectures on their own time and do assignments in class where teachers are available to answer questions. That also allows students to work at their own pace, rather than following along with the lesson plan teachers have set for each day.

Other teachers have pulled other parts of the strategic plan into their own classes.

“We do have lots of innovation going on within our classrooms,” said Caleb Drexler Booth, the district’s teaching and learning director. “It is trying new things within their classrooms. Finding new ways to engage students. Their efforts are limited to the four walls of their classroom to some degree and we see a bigger impact that a multi-age experience could have, or multi-grade.”

Starting this week, Pierce and Drexler Booth will lead five days of discussion with an 18-member planning team to flesh out some of the details about exactly what this school might look like, how the district can use the space that will be available at its instructional services center.

Even after those meetings are over, though, the school will be a work in progress. Pierce and Drexler Booth hope to present a plan to the Farmington School Board in January and have the school up and running by fall if the board chooses to proceed. But the plan for the school could continue to evolve even beyond the first day of class.

“We know it’s going to be an iterative process,” Drexler Booth said. “The traditional school has been around for 200 years and it hasn’t changed a whole lot. Part of the core of this is, we’re constantly going to be reorganizing ourselves and our efforts to reach kids in different ways.

“A lot of the structures will be set, but the way the team functions and the way we reach kids is going to grow and change.”

Once this five days of meetings ends, Pierce and Drexler Booth hope to have an action plan that will allow them to translate the district’s strategic plan from paper to the classroom.

It’s a lot to get done in a short period of time, but Pierce and Drexler Booth said they heard a lot of support for the idea as they talked about it at schools around the district.

“I’m highly optimistic and energized about this opportunity,” Drexler Booth said. “It is exciting.”

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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