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Editorial: Innovation is important in education

Innovation has been a big word since Jay Haugen took over as superintendent in the Farmington School District. Haugen talked early and often about the need to look at new ways of teaching students and -- maybe more important -- of helping them learn on their own.

The most obvious sign of Haugen's push for innovation is the district's plan to put iPads in the hands of every district student. That effort should reach its completion near the end of February when the district hands out the devices to all of its elementary and middle school students.

Now, Haugen and the rest of the district are looking for a little help in their push for change. The district, teamed with the Spring Lake Park School District, has applied for recognition as a Minnesota Department of Education Innovation Zone.

The exact meaning of that designation is not entirely clear. There is no additional funding that comes with it. Maybe it will give the district access to some programs it might not otherwise have been able to use. Maybe it will encourage the state to loosen some of the rules that would otherwise hold the district back. The district won't get free rein to change whatever it wants, but it might get some more room to maneuver.

That might not be enough to allow the district to implement some of Haugen's bigger-picture ideas, things like revamping the structure of the school day, or the way students progress through their education career -- even the notion of advancing from one grade to the next. But it certainly can't hurt.

There are dangers associated with pushing for change. There are risks a district might try something because it is new more than because it works.

If those issues can be kept in check, though, there are benefits to looking for the next best thing. The world is a different place than it was even a few years ago. Education is changing.

Innovation is important, and this could be a good opportunity for Farmington schools to be part of the process.