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Farmington Superintendent Haugen talks 'Innovation Zones'

Last week Farmington Public Schools Superintendent Jay Haugen attended Minnesota Association of School Administrators summit in Duluth.

This statewide event allows superintendents, teaching and learning, special education and technology educators a venue to discuss how to improve learning.

"I will be speaking about the Innovation Zone law and we were successful in getting that passed," Haugen told the School Board last week.

Innovation Zones

This past August, the Farmington School District worked together with the Minnesota Department of Education to craft ways to take applications regarding Innovation Zones. The state law was signed in May. Haugen served with the educational group to craft the language for the Innovation Zone law.

Haugen took part in rigorous, back-and-forth discussions and negotiations with policymakers regarding the Innovation Zone legislation.

"There is a lot of interest with school districts now on the idea of Innovation Zones, and there is some real relief from rules and statutes that come along with that," Haugen said. "So much of what happens in our school district is because of legislation, and we have been pretty successful with getting things passed."

Haugen said they already are talking about what legislative initiatives should be pursued with the Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA).

Farmington School Board member Melissa Sauser serves on the MSBA. The legislative platform will be composed in the upcoming weeks.

"I encourage the public to share ideas with her and I will do the same," Haugen said. "We want our students to be charge of their own learning since they have the tools 24/7."

Farmington was the first of its size district to embrace some forms of learning via iPads distributed to students across the district in a partnership with Spring Lake Park.

"Everybody is trying to personalize education and have students create their own learning pathways, and we want to have learning programs based on students' strengths as a unique preparation for life through personalized learning," Haugen said. "We forget how kids are much more in the community now, and are ready to learn about vocations, technology and career experiences that are all different, and so this idea of zones is what we are going to do and we all do it differently."

The idea of developing Innovation Zones within a curriculum means school districts need to be able to offer ways to teach that is free from some traditional rules and regulations, Haugen said.

"It is hard to innovate when we are doing everything in the same way," he said.

Funding inequities

When educators gather, many times the conversation can move to discussion about state funding and inequity with school funding, said Haugen.

"This is typically a nonfunding year that happens every biennium, but the one thing I will say at any opportunity I get is the whole idea of equity is — even if it is not a funding year — equity in funding should be something we work on every year because our school district is one that we get fewer dollars than other school districts and it costs us a lot more dollars than other districts and it costs our taxpayers," Haugen said. "The difference is stunning and Farmington is very expensive and we get fewer dollars."

Even though the Legislature approved 2 percent annual funding increases for this year and next year, Haugen said it is never too early to talk about funding solutions that could be implemented a year from now.

"Always in a non-funding year, we always want to work on what will happen with funding years, and we always want to take steps to work on special education," Haugen said.

In Farmington, it costs about $6 million to fund special education that is mandated.

"That is a stunning amount and every school district has the same story in the millions," Haugen said.

Last year a special education proposal was brought forward before the state legislature that would have place some funding mechanisms in place for eight years while ramping it up a little more each year.

"We would like to put something in place next year that could start kicking in a year after that," he said.