Salem High School is one of nine schools in the state to be awarded a $50,000 grant by the Virginia Department of Education to create programs that provide innovative approaches to learning. The grant is designed to better prepare students for employment. Recipients of the grant were announced by Governor Terry McAuliffe on July 14.
This is the second year in a row Salem High School has been awarded $50,000. While last year’s grant was considered an Innovation Planning Grant, this year, the school received an Innovation Implementation Grant. School officials will be working on making the ideas gathered by teachers over the past year a reality in classrooms.
“In order to build the workforce of the future, we must ensure that we are preparing all of our students to succeed in the new Virginia economy,” Governor McAuliffe said in his statement. “With this second round of high school innovation grants, we are not only taking another positive step in that direction, we are also supporting the bold ideas of our education leaders and changing high school as we know it.”
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Curtis Hicks headed up the application process, and said SHS was chosen because it has long been a leader of innovation in the state. The school is focusing on providing personalized learning that includes curriculum changes, workplace learning and alternative scheduling options.
“One of the goals is for students to have more opportunities to explore areas of interest so that they will have a better idea what they want to do after they graduate from high school. We also want them to have more advanced learning opportunities in these areas of interest and even workplace-based learning opportunities through job shadowing programs and internships,” Hicks said. “There is a national focus on reinventing high school education.”
With last year’s funding, the school division developed 16 “Career Pathways” in reflection of local, state and national employment trends. During the upcoming school year, administrative staff will work with teachers and counselors to develop new career pathways and refine existing ones. The school will work with business, industry and post-secondary partners. Pathways will be available online as well as in the 2017 Salem High School Registration guide. Andrew Lewis Middle School students will use the pathways to develop an academic and career plan by fall of their eighth grade year.
The grant will also be used to provide asynchronous learning opportunities that allow students to complete core discipline courses earlier, in order to use the final two years of high school to focus on in-depth learning experiences. The division is hoping to institute a digital curriculum package that allows students to earn high school credit without limitations to when and where they complete the course. Funds will be used to hire a consultant to develop strategies to help teachers personalize instruction.
Non-traditional scheduling will also be a focus. In the application, Hicks states that the notion that every student needs the same amount of time to complete a course is outdated, and that the traditional September-June calendar does not provide enough flexibility to meet the needs of 21st century students. Students now have more opportunities to complete courses during the summer or during the school year based on their needs, with requests for more opportunities increasing.
SHS had 359 non-traditional asynchronous course enrollments between June 2014 and May 2015. Last year’s grant allowed the school to explore more options that may not be available as a traditional course. During the 2016-17 school year, staff will develop mini-course ideas. The mini-courses would focus on subjects such as project management, interviewing or public speaking. The division is aiming to have the courses available by the 2017 registration date.
SHS will also look into partnering with industries, colleges and post-secondary training representatives to create advanced learning opportunities that are pathway-specific. The courses would allow students to potentially earn workplace experience, high school-credit bearing courses and college course credit.
The grant budget allows for $26,860 towards the salaries and wages of employees who develop programs outside of normal contract hours. Other expenses will include the cost of travel, as administration visits the leading schools in innovation. Already, members of the school division have visited schools in places like Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Next, they will travel to Horry County Public Schools in South Carolina. Another large chunk of funding, in the amount of $12,400, will go towards training and professional development.