Mentor Public Schools is a suburban district 20 miles east of Cleveland, Ohio, which serves 7,650 preK-12 students across 42 square miles. The district provides opportunities to its students through its emphasis on the fundamental ABCs – adapting, balancing, and collaborating – which they will highlight at the spring 2017 League of Innovative Schools meeting in late April.
Throughout the district, traditional rows of desks have been updated and replaced with flexible learning spaces. As a result of a $13.8 million dollar grant from the Ohio Department of Education’s Straight A Fund, the district remade 65 classrooms in six months with state-of-the-art technology and furniture. Some classrooms don’t have walls between them, allowing teachers to partner and split their classes in groups, which fosters collaborations between students and teachers.
The district-wide implementation and emphasis on blended learning was strategic. The Catalyst program, built around a model classroom with an observation room with a two-way mirror, allows visitors and other teachers to observe a blended learning classroom in action. The program has allowed teachers to learn from one another, scaling best practices across the district.
Additionally, within the grant for district redesign, the district prioritized building Paradigm, a central space for Mentor staff and teachers to work together, complete with large meeting rooms, flexible furniture, and state-of-the-art presentation capabilities. “We have a high school staff of 160, and there was no real place for them to work in a collaborative way as an entire staff,” said Mike Lynch, Director of Straight A Initiatives. “Paradigm was written into the grant knowing that, no matter what changes happen in education, we’ll have a facility where our teachers can further their knowledge and adapt to changes in professional setting.” League leaders will see the space firsthand and collaborate within it at the spring League meeting.
Mentor celebrates student differences, recognizing students have different needs they must serve. Through meaningful and growing relationships with industry partners, health centers, local universities, and recruitment hubs, the staff at Mentor stays informed on the best ways to prepare students for their futures.
The staff also creates meaningful professional learning opportunities alongside work inside the classroom, including providing a class of Mentor high school students in the Career/Technical Education (CTE) program with the opportunity develop skills required to renovate a house within their community and put it on the market for sale (see a student video production of last year’s house here). The district sold the first house with a profit of $40,000, using the money to invest in the next house.
Cardinal Autism Resource and Education School (CARES) is the district’s center that is custom-designed to serve students on the autism spectrum. The school boasts a sensory room, life skills center, and a therapy dog named Buster, as well as occupational therapists and speech therapists on staff. Within the walls of CARES, students have started careers in fields like construction and marketing in the community after receiving hands-on skill development.
Administrators model teamwork by often conducting their meetings in a glass conference room in Mentor High School’s library, giving students a transparent visual of what it means to serve on a team.
Externally, it’s clear social media is a key part of the collaboration within the Mentor community. With the establishment of the hashtag #OnceACard (referencing the town’s motto “Once A Cardinal, Always a Cardinal”), teachers, administrators, students, and parents communicate with one another, celebrating successes and providing knowledge share opportunities.
The district is also part of Digital Promise’s competency-based education working group and its offshoot – a cross-district collaboration nicknamed the “COW Project” with Kettle Moraine School District and Vista Unified School District, where teachers in three states (California, Ohio, and Wisconsin – hence, COW!) are designing project-based learning units collaboratively.
The Mentor team is taking on the task of hosting 250+ school district leaders, researchers, and partners for the upcoming League meeting in order to support the League community they’ve been a part of for the past three years. When asked what he thought League leaders might take away from the visit, Mentor Superintendent Matt Miller said, “I think that when they leave Mentor they’re going to be impressed with the amount of opportunities we give our kids, not just at the high school, but K-12. I hope they leave here wanting to create more of these opportunities in their districts.”