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Four Strategies in Four Years that Will Transform a Community Forever

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By Lisa Duty, Ph.D., Senior Director of Innovation, KnowledgeWorks

Annually, for more than 45 years, the city of Reynoldsburg, Ohio has celebrated the Tomato Festival-- a nod to its heritage as the birthplace of the commercial tomato. This middle-America town also boasts one other claim to fame: A so-called "traditional" LEA, namely Reynoldsburg City Schools (RCS), which is poised to be a breakout star among serious implementers of thoroughly re-engineered conceptions of learning and schooling.

The Reynoldsburg City School District was recently named one of 61 national finalists for the U.S. Department of Education's 2012 Race to the Top-District competition. RCS brokered a partnership that crosses public education, non-profit, for-profit and social enterprise arenas, with Battelle Memorial Institute (the world's largest nonprofit research and development organization), Education Elements (one of the fastest growing education technology startups in the U.S.) and my own organization, KnowledgeWorks, to seize on the explosion of innovation that has been transforming how we think about learning, and how we organize talent and resources for learners.

Stephen Dackin, Superintendent of RCS, has long been setting the curve for others with the creation of "small schools," sponsorship of multiple schools of choice (charter schools), local policies that support student improvement-based teacher incentive pay, the matching of teachers to students for instruction based on student and teacher data--as well as the tide of quality STEM programming (co-developed by KnowledgeWorks' subsidiary EdWorks) which places 2,000 of their 6,000-plus student body in STEM interest-based academies and pathways by virtue of the student's (and families') choice.

Dackin, a critical user of future trends research in KW's Education Forecast 3.0 clearly sees and creates the future of learning in his district. Teaching and learning are increasingly becoming uncoupled from public educational institutions like his own, and Dackin sees that opportunities to make learning more customized and available 24/7 through a vibrant learning ecosystem, have never been greater.

Consistent with their legacy of innovation, RCS seeks to accelerate bold action taking in four key areas in four years that cumulatively support the smart recombination of resources on behalf of--and with--young learners.

1: Expanding Educational Choice. Reynoldsburg will continue its work to design a themed or interest-based focus for all schools through collaboration among school, families and community partners. Child and/or family interest and needs drive school choice, so any child may attend any school in the district. All schools will provide personalized learning plans for every child, use inquiry- or problem-based learning and blended instruction as key instructional strategies, and actively engage community and business partners to support children and provide real-world experiences so that all children are college- and career-ready by graduation.

2: Embracing Blended Learning. Reynoldsburg will continue its journey to support each school in adopting a blended learning model that best meets the needs of its particular students and school community, and that relates directly to its theme or interest focus. Educators will weave digital content into the fabric of everyday learning for all students, recreating operations of the classroom along the way. All schools will implement competency-based models so that mastery, not seat time, is the final measure of student learning.

3: Enabling Collective Impact Through Collaboration with Community Partners. Reynoldsburg will align school and community resources to improve systems and supports for all children. A local education partnership will identify assets across the community and align resources to support the most effective strategies and services using data. Community-based resources are intended not only for "after school" supports, but also to expand learning opportunities directly in the classroom, as part of the regular school day.

4: Using Data Analytics to Support Personalization. Reynoldsburg will develop a Web- based data analytics platform that evaluates the effectiveness of specific interventions in addressing specific triggers, and makes recommendations to educators about interventions for individual students based on the student's context and the triggers that he or she is presenting. Over time this platform will register and analyze the factors that contribute to student success, including programs and learning, formal and informal, outside of school.

Currently at the intersection of and drawing across these four key strategies is a unique pilot (designed by KnowledgeWorks' subsidiaryOhio Education Matters with RCS and Education Elements) fostering the development of a learning Oasis; a vibrant ecosystem of opportunities and adults serving youth.

In this microcosm, Hannah Ashton Middle School led by Denise Lutz, we're borrowing from our own Strive Cradle to Career methodologies and rethinking their application through a fusion with connected, blended learning. Powered by data, we're looking at bringing the organization and application of all resources (physical, virtual-world, academic, social, wellness-related, formal or informal) directly into the teaching and learning sphere, increasingly tied to and adapted for the learners' profile, taking collective impact to a new level.

A RttT-D win would accelerate RCS's latest stage of transformation, making it possible to close gaps in career and college readiness in four years instead of eight to ten. But their "proposal," one should note, is already "live" in advance of any grant opportunity. They wait for no one when student learning is at stake. When they know what's right for kids, they simply do it. Reynoldsburg's approach is illustrative of how KnowledgeWorks see the future of education moving forward, and it's how we'll see the promise of America fulfilled.

***

KnowledgeWorks , a Cincinnati-based social enterprise, is bringing the future of learning to America's high schools and creating widespread, lasting change in the communities and states we serve. Our portfolio of high school approaches includes New Tech Network , and EDWorks Fast Track, New Start and STEMLab high schools. KnowledgeWorks subsidiary Strive is a national initiative that works to build the cradle to career civic infrastructure in communities to identify, sustain and scale what works for kids. Ohio Education Matters connects the dots between great innovations and the people in local communities who can propel change. A nonpartisan public policy think tank, OEM acts as a catalyst of education transformation - providing research, advocacy, engagement and policy development that inspire others to create a new system of education for Ohio's next generation.

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