This week several of my Independence Institute colleagues and I were blessed with the opportunity to visit Cole Arts and Science Academy. About four months ago I wrote about my brimming hope for this school with a troubled past — hope set free by Cole’s new-found Innovation School status and brought to life by teachers and school leaders on a mission.
Without a charter, school leaders and parents have engaged in a pursuit to visit some top-flight area schools and incorporate some of their best practices inside their beautifully renovated, 3-story facility near 32nd and Downing. Besides the growing number of rock star teachers (including some TFAers) in the building, what stands out is the emphasis on individual students owning their academic performance and growth.
Add in a concerted effort to reach out to families, a systematic regimen of frequent and purposeful teaching evaluations, and the opportunity for students to elect from a wide range of “infusion classes” to spice up their heavy emphasis on math and literacy. What you get is a school unique to its community, set free to pursue excellence.
It was a special privilege to get to talk briefly to a classroom of energetic 1st graders, then pose for a picture that we were sent home with as a token of appreciation. No school visit I’ve ever taken has made me feel more warmly welcome or left me feeling more hopeful.
If we set more struggling schools free from the regulatory burdens on program and staffing, and afford them the opportunities to learn what works and put their own plan of continuous improvement into action, where are the limits to what can be accomplished? But first we’ll have to see what sort of progress Cole makes schoolwide in its inaugural year as a true pioneer Innovation School.
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