The League of Innovative Schools team had the opportunity to visit multiple districts in the first quarter of 2017 — and we have so much more to see! While the highlights of each of these visits are vast, below are five amazing schools we visited in League districts that are educating students in creative, forward-thinking ways.

Mentor Public Schools – Mentor, OH

Mentor Public Schools has a school dedicated to serving students with autism. CARES (Cardinal Autism Resource and Education School) was built five years ago to better support students on the spectrum, both from an instructional and environmental standpoint. The school serves 58 students and has attributes like acoustic panels, carpeting, and non-fluorescent lights. All decorations are exclusively functional and teachers are instructed not to wear perfume or jewelry, decisions made specifically to serve the needs of those students on the autism spectrum.

The school features observation rooms and cameras so parents can learn how best to support their children, and so teachers may better understand their students’ behavior and progress. The school trains students academically, prepares and supports students should they transition back to a transitional school, and offers a robust curriculum in life and job skills. CARES also has partnerships with local companies in industries like construction, marketing, and retail, where students are trained in jobs skills for which they have shown aptitude and interest.

The only disappointment in our trip is we missed Buster, the school’s therapy dog, but Superintendent Matt Miller assured us we may be able to meet him on our trip back for the spring League meeting this April.

Kettle Moraine School District – Wales, WI

Kettle Moraine School District has created charter schools like KM Perform within its traditional high school to accommodate student interests. KM Perform is a school for arts and performance that is entirely competency-based, in which students focus on music, theatre, creative writing, or visual art. They use an interdisciplinary studies program, blending subjects and allowing for the demonstration of competency in the way that best suits them. Time constraints to demonstrate a competency are removed in this system of teaching and learning, and student transcripts have been adapted to reflect student progress in this system. Students at KM Perform  leave high school with an understanding and ownership of how they learn best.

Students have the opportunity to take classes like “sound recording,” and we walked away inspired by a young generation of artists, as well as armed with a list of some great new band suggestions.

Stephenville Independent School District – Stephenville, TX

Hook Elementary School reimagined the structure of their third and fourth grade classes by organizing schedules in “pods,” where elementary teachers are given the opportunity to dive deep on more specific areas of expertise. Through meaningful partnerships across curricular areas, teachers have the flexibility and opportunities to collaborate with other teachers – like the week-long Mario Kart experience we witnessed, where students completed challenges in coding, language arts, and other disciplines.

The district is in their second year of its digital transformation, affectionately named “iChampion,” which leverages the power and mobility of technology to create a personalized, student-centric environment. The district’s strategic move towards personalizing education for students has also triggered a transformation in teachers.

Additionally, check out this bearded dragon we saw on our visit.

Vista Unified School District – Vista, CA

Located in southern California, Roosevelt Middle School is part of an interstate collaboration with two other middle schools located in Mentor, Ohio, and Kettle Moraine, Wisconsin, to further competency-based education (CBE). Students at Roosevelt (and in the other two middle schools) are hard at work on a project to “create social change,” and they are pitching, developing, and fine-tuning their ideas with the help of their teacher and feedback from students in Ohio and Wisconsin.

Teachers from participating districts have travelled to one another’s districts to learn and collaborate. They are also developing interdisciplinary open-educational resources to support this unique program, as well as ensure the course material is culturally and socially relevant to the students. Both early career teachers and veteran teachers alike have found this collaboration to be extremely valuable for their professional development.

Evergreen School District – San Jose, CA

Through a partnership with the New Tech Network, Evergreen School District’s Bulldog Tech is a public middle school, serving 300 students, that emphasizes project-based learning (PBL). At Bulldog Tech, students manage their own time in the absence of bells and meet project deadlines rather than homework completion. To nurture this type of student agency, Bulldog Tech’s Site Director Randy Hollencamp states, “Culture is the secret sauce to the hamburger. Without it, you’re just a school that does PBL and has computers.”

Students are empowered through a culture that emphasizes trust, respect, and responsibility. As a New Tech Network School, Bulldog Tech’s stated goal is to “enable students to gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life, college and the careers of tomorrow.”

To learn more about some of the nation’s most forward-thinking school districts, check out our League map and follow our #DPLIS hashtag on Twitter.


About Melissa Gedney

Melissa Gedney is the Program and Communications Manager for the League of Innovative Schools.

About Vina Vo

Vina Vo is the Program Manager for the League of Innovative Schools.

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