By Emma Crawford Kent
TUPELO – Corinth School District will be the first public school district in Northeast Mississippi to become a District of Innovation.
Legislation allowing school Districts of Innovation to be developed was passed last March. The legislation gives public school districts freedom to use innovative methods outside of state regulations, much like charter schools.
Districts of Innovation are still under regulatory authority of the State Board of Education and must meet the same achievement requirements as other school districts.
Corinth’s plan, called “Forward First,” was approved by the State Board of Education Thursday during the board’s meeting.
Gulfport School District and Vicksburg-Warren School District were approved at the meeting.
The plan will build on the district’s eMerge initiative, which was introduced three years ago.
As part of eMerge, the district introduced the Cambridge International Program and partnered with Alcorn and Prentiss county schools in the creation of an Early Learning Collaborative for pre-kindergarten-aged children.
The Cambridge International Program provides curriculum in various subjects with a focus on promoting critical thinking, in-depth analysis and strong writing skills.
At the end of each course, students take a rigorous Cambridge Exam.
“Forward First” proposes adopting a modified school calendar where students attend quarters and have three-week breaks between them.
During those three-week breaks, the district will host remediation enrichment sessions for students who need extra help.
The district has developed a set of courses with Northeast Mississippi Community College that would allow students in grades 10-12 to earn up to 33 hours prior to leaving Corinth High School.
Childress hopes to allow students to earn course credit by demonstrated mastery.
A wider variety of diploma options are another part of the district’s plan.
All of the district’s libraries will become “digital communication learning centers” for a more creative and collaborative environment with technology available for students to use.
Childress said the school’s libraries should reflect the 21st century.
“It should be a different place,” Childress said. “We’re buying a lot of books that are never checked out and might not ever get checked out.”
A Center for Innovation will be created, possibly from an old school building, Childress said. The facility will house career tech programs and other spaces.
More blended and experiential learning will be implemented in kindergarten through sixth-grade classes.
The plan includes the creation of a new accountability system and replacing the Mississippi Assessment Program, the current state test, with Cambridge International Exams.
Childress said Corinth teachers currently keep up with both sets of standards and tests.
“It’s hard for our teachers to teach one program and do what they need to do in teaching standards,” Childress said.
Compensation for teachers will also change.
Childress said the district is looking at moving to a differentiated career pathways and performance incentives model.
In this model, the district would offer effective teachers a performance-based retention bonus and teachers’ roles and salaries would be determined by which career pathway they are in – professional teacher or master teacher.
“If you’re going to spend the time and effort to train those teachers you want to retain them if they’re effective,” Childress said.
Some things will be implemented in the upcoming 2016-17 school year, while others will have to be phased in over time.
“We’ve had a lot of different pieces in place, but Districts of Innovation allowed us to pull it together into one package,” Childress said. “We think we have an aggressive plan, and we think we can make a difference in the lives of children.”