Posted on 06/13/2013


The Danville Schools were named a District of Innovation as result of a new opportunity that lets public schools propose new ways to organize learning to significantly boost achievement and prepare students for success beyond high school.


Under the Danville proposal, all students would start working toward state college- and career-readiness targets in sixth grade and get real-world learning opportunities in new courses as well as out-of-school experiences that emphasize research, design, and community action.


The Danville plan addresses several connected topics: a stronger link between middle school and high school, a streamlined state testing program focused on ACT scores and student presentations, and new experiences across subject-area boundaries that would challenge students to find and use information and data, create and test solutions to real problems, and work with community agencies on current issues.


“We know the way we do school wasn’t made for today’s world. The opportunity through Districts of Innovation gave schools and districts the chance to propose a better way, encouraging us to think about how to create learning experiences for students that will best equip them for post-secondary success. Our teachers, leaders and students jumped on that chance,” said Superintendent Carmen Coleman. “We see our plan as a way to produce more graduates with strong skills who have a solid plan after high school and advantages that will help set them on a sure path for success.


Teachers at all five Danville schools endorsed the district’s application — the state required approval from at least 70 percent of each school’s faculty. The Danville plan was unanimously endorsed by the school board and included formal letters of support from Centre College and the University of Kentucky.


The state education department evaluated applications from across the state before recommending four districts for approval by the state Board of Education.


Coleman said the district has already started making shifts at the high school and middle school in line with the plan’s goals. However, state approval will allow the district to realize the full scope of its plan.


Some highlights of the Danville application:


* The plan seeks to more logically connect middle school and high school, developing a series of Core academic courses starting in sixth grade that move all students toward college- and career-readiness targets by 10th grade. The state’s goal is for students to reach that level by the end of high school, but across Kentucky, only 34 percent met that mark in 2009.


“Our data, including achievement gap reports over many years, shows that our challenge is to create a path for higher performance by all students, but particularly among students who often lack the support to pursue or succeed in the challenging curriculum that is the most promising route to successful life options beyond high school,” the Danville innovation application stated. “This situation has persisted because it is possible for students to make passing grades in courses and earn credits to satisfy requirements for a diploma without approaching a level that promises postsecondary success in college or careers.” In addition to a clearer path connecting middle school and high school, the application adds that the district will develop a better system for identifying and providing supports when students need help.


“For the first time, the academic goals of the middle and high schools will be perfectly aligned,” said Danville High School Principal Aaron Etherington. “College and career success is now the primary focus of both schools. We will no longer be working separately in hopes of reaching a common end.”


* Beyond the new Core that spans middle school and high school, Danville’s innovation plan calls for moving more students into advanced academics like Advanced Placement courses, other college-level options, or courses that lead students toward career-focused or military competencies. After completing the Core, students would work with teachers to define a personalized Area of Focus outlining courses and out-of-school learning experiences that will prepare students for postsecondary options. As part of developing that focus, students would complete a Culminating Presentation explaining an area of in-depth learning or investigation.


* The district’s plan calls for building new areas of study in Research & Analysis, Design, and Action. Courses would focus on real issues and topics and are likely to include a mix of science, social studies, English, and math content. In addition to applying content, the courses would show students how to find reliable information, use data to see patterns and draw conclusions, identify problems or questions in need of solutions, test and refine ideas, and work with community agencies to develop a strategy, find resources, and organize people to meet real needs.


* Looking at statewide testing, the Danville application requests a streamlined system in middle school and high school focused more heavily on the ACT college-entrance exam and tests leading to it – EXPLORE and PLAN - plus new performance tasks patterned after a group of New York schools working with Danville. The application would eliminate state K-PREP tests at Bate and multiple-choice end-of-course exams at DHS. Students would be measured by the series three ACT-produced tests currently part of the statewide testing program plus the performance tasks in grades 6-8 and Culminating Presentation at DHS, all measured by panels of teachers and community experts. State officials in New York have approved a similar modified state testing system for schools there using the research-based performance tasks. The Danville application says this path of testing will reinforce deeper classroom learning, more real-world work, and stronger student achievement.


“The assessments chosen have strong credibility with students and families, and improving performance will have tangible benefits for students,” the Danville application said. It added that faculty “overwhelmingly believe” that the modified testing system will help students be most successful beyond high school.


“Bate students would be completing assessment tasks that challenge them to be good communicators, problem solvers, researchers, scientists, journalists, as well as engineers or artists,” said Bate Middle School Principal Amy Galloway. “It’s exciting to plan a customized system that will challenge our students not just to gain knowledge, but also apply knowledge.”  


* The Danville application also proposed three new job categories that could be added in schools in the next few years to help achieve the plan’s goals: Success Coaches would work with individual students and families to better identify students’ learning styles, strengths, areas of academic weakness, personal interests, and goals. In addition, the Coaches would develop stronger connections with colleges, employers, and the military to improve options for students. Interdisciplinary Learning Designers would give teachers unique university-level training to create engaging one-of-a-kind learning experiences for students, combining partnerships with outside experts, high-level online resources, and rigorous classroom challenges and instruction. Teaching Assistants would supervise areas like computer labs or classrooms during testing; tutor groups or individual students; grade tests or other routine classwork, or fill other support roles to free teachers’ time.


The application and innovation plan are a logical extension of district goals first adopted in 2009 — calling for powerful learning experiences, global preparedness, growth for all students, and excellence in communication — and the attributes of a Danville Diploma defined last year, said Jean Crowley, the school board chair.


“Our teachers and administrators have learned a lot from some of the most impressive schools in the country and created a plan that we think will help us deliver a better and more interesting education for all students,” Crowley said. “This is an exciting chance for Danville at a time when the opportunities to learn and the importance of being a strong learner have never been greater.”


“Teachers are really excited about the opportunity to once again be master craftsmen,” Principal Etherington added. “They are looking forward to engaging students in more meaningful work that gets at college and career success.”


Superintendent Coleman said that the district will share its long-range plans with the community this summer and fall after meeting with state officials to confirm details of the District of Innovation approval.