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Tacoma's award-winning Innovative Schools

Leading Innovation in Washington

Students in Tacoma Public Schools have their pick of more innovative options for their education than any other district in the state.

In 2012, State Superintendent Randy Dorn named Tacoma Public Schools as the state’s first-ever and only district-wide Innovation Zone for education. In the first two years of the state’s effort to identify the most innovative schools, 11 of the 33 schools statewide to earn the innovative designation are in Tacoma Public Schools.

The Tacoma School Board wants to push innovation even more in hopes that more students can match up with custom schools and programs that ignite their passion for learning and help them succeed academically.

The Board of Directors approved an innovation policy in November 2012 to encourage the district to pursue and adopt new specialty schools and programs that support academic achievement.

Do you have your own innovative idea? Find out the process and timeline for how to submit it.

In a 2012 community survey, most people recognized the district’s two specialty high schools – School of the Arts (SOTA) and the Science and Math Institute (SAMI) as innovative. After that, however, few people knew about the others, among them:

Geiger and Bryant Montessori schools

Bryant serves preschool through 8th grade while Geiger serves preschool-5. The district expanded the Montessori method of instruction to Geiger to meet parent demand.

Lincoln High School

Based on the success of pilot program "Lincoln Center," the entire school transitioned to "Lincoln 2.0" in the 2014-2015 school year. Every student stays an hour extra four days a week. Students who qualify are automatically enrolled in Advanced Placement classes and there’s more time for robust athletic programs.

Foss High School IB Program

The rigorous International Baccalaureate program, which offers a curriculum taught at schools all around the world. Foss High School has offered the high-level program for years. Most recently, the district is expanding the IB program at McCarver Elementary School and Giaudrone Middle School so parents who want their students engaged in a rigorous track throughout their school years can do so.

​And more...

Other innovative schools include wraparound services at First Creek Middle School from a number of community organizations and Baker Middle School, where the entire teaching staff volunteered to go through National Board Certification training to collectively increase their teaching capabilities. Stafford Elementary School uses a combination of strategies – community involvement, technology and arts infusion, looped classes where students stay with students for more than one year - to reach a diverse population of students, many of whom don't speak English as their primary langauge.

 Open enrollment policy

“We have an open enrollment policy throughout the district that allows parents to choose the school they think best fits the needs of their children,” said Toni Pace, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. “At any time, a parent can come to us and seek a transfer.”

During the month of January, the district has opened its annual optional enrollment window for current 5th graders who will move to middle school next year and 8th graders who will move to high school. Parents will receive a letter asking them which school they want their child to attend next school year.

Plans to publicly review and discuss a new draft policy and guidelines on innovation that – when formally adopted – will guide the administration and staff in the pursuit of additional innovations that help all students achieve.

As part of the state designation, Tacoma must adopt an innovation policy this fall. The draft policy and guidelines include several key statements, including this one:

“The district shall strive to be on the leading edge of innovation among public schools in Washington. Innovations shall reflect best practices and be supported by a compelling theory demonstrating they will produce the expected outcomes. The district shall be fiscally responsible in supporting innovative approaches; maximize public, private and philanthropic resources; and ensure it can sustain innovative approaches shown to be successful. While flexibility and autonomy are necessary for innovation, accountability for effective implementation and results are required. Therefore, planning and implementation of innovations shall include a continuing assessment and improvement process to ensure the innovations are achieving their identified outcomes and whether improvements are needed.”

Read the entire policy. Innovative Policy No. 0105

The district’s overarching intent with innovation is to find ways to match students with unique schools that play to their passions and interests so they’ll be engaged learners and go on to great success.

Tacoma Public School students are asked to define Innovation. Hear what they have to say:​​​​


 New school proposed


Tacoma Public Schools has received two proposals for new, innovative secondary schools to open as soon as the 2016-2017 school year. Which one will the School Board choose June 25?

Check out the two proposals:

Learn more about the two proposals.

Do you have a comment on the proposals? Let us know what you think.

Learn more about the process adopted by the School Board to add another innovative school option to the Tacoma Public Schools portfolio of school choices.


 Is one right for you?