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, 12 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 to encourage the district to pursue and adopt new specialty schools and programs that support academic achievement.
In a community survey last fall, 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:
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 two years ago to meet parent demand.
An extended day “school within a school” at Lincoln High School. Students stay in school for extra learning in the afternoons and attend school one Saturday per month.
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.
Other innovative schools include the Science, Technology, Reading, Arts and Math (STREAM) focus at Stewart Middle School, First Creek Middle School featuring wraparound services from a number of community organizations, Baker Middle School where the entire teaching staff volunteered to go through some National Board Certification training to collectively increase their teaching capabilities and Stafford Elementary School, which uses a combination of strategies – community
involvement, technology and arts infusion, looped classes in which teachers 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 language.
“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: