The Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District is officially part of the Mississippi Innovation Labs Network.
The Innovation Labs Network is a new Mississippi Department of Education initiative that will allow certain school districts across the state to work together to improve education, whether through teaching, scheduling or other means.
SOCSD Superintendent Eddie Peasant announced the district’s acceptance into the program during Thursday’s board of trustees meeting. The district, according to the commitment letter from MDE, is part of the network for the remainder of the 2017-18 school year and 2018-19.
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Christy Maulding said MDE presented the opportunity for multiple districts in Mississippi to work to implement innovative ideas and ways to improve education for students.
“In doing this, they’re working with us to look at goals for the district and for the students to help us find creative ways to schedule middle school and add opportunities and activities for our students,” Maulding said. “It’ll be a group of students inside the state and nationally working together to find innovative pathways to make our classrooms better.”
The Mississippi Innovation Labs Network is modeled after the Council of Chief State School Officers Innovations Lab Network, which acts in a similar fashion, but between different states. MDE is a member of the CCSSO Innovation Labs Network.
SOCSD is currently working to determine how exactly it will implement the Mississippi Innovation Labs Network program. Maulding said it will likely focus most heavily on the middle and high school levels, but should have an impact throughout the district.
“Through other opportunities with our computer science pilot that we’re taking part in, it will reach all the way down to our elementary,” she said.
Peasant also noted the program will allow SOCSD a degree of freedom in how it schedules classes. It will also primarily focus on science-related fields, though there’s potential for use for fine arts and other subjects.
MDE defines “innovation” in the program as new alternatives to existing teaching and administrative methods aimed at improving student learning and performance, according to information on the department’s website about the program.
Specifically, MDE defines learning innovation as “moving from the teaching system of the 20th century to a new ‘learning system’ of the 21st century where learning and the ‘facilitation of learning’ (teaching) are the central elements.”
Jennifer Carver, lead teacher at Armstrong Middle School, said the Innovation Labs Network should help by offering more of an opportunity to teach students different ways to evaluate information. She said modern learning has changed from the point where teachers were the main source of information.
Now, she said, students have easy access to more information — and therefore more opportunities to learn –and it’s important to teach them how to use that information.
“What we need to do now is teach them to use that information to make good decisions and to become critical thinkers,” Carver said. “We have to teach them to see what’s reliable and what’s not reliable. Those are the skills we need to teach our students as they go out into the college and career fields.”
One goal of the Mississippi Innovation Labs Network, according to MDEI, is ensuring that students can learn anywhere they can access instructional material.
Carver also noted that the program will likely allow the district to create pathways in middle school, which could help expose students to subjects and potential careers paths that interest them earlier than high school, as currently typically happens.
On the broader district level, Carver said working with other districts could be a big benefit to SOCSD as it will allow districts to share ideas.
“We can lean on each other,” she said. “I’m really excited about that. Most schools have problems like we do, and we don’t have to reinvent the will to solve them.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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