Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network Supports Deeper Learning

Teams of educators from 31 school divisions gathered last week (March 11-12) at the Chesterfield Career and Technical Center to share ideas on how to accelerate innovation and promote deeper learning in the commonwealth’s public schools. The educators make up the first cohort of the Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network, an initiative of the Virginia Department of Education, James Madison University and the Virginia School Consortium for Learning.

The innovation network’s goals are to promote deeper learning at all grade levels and to align instruction and assessment across the state with the expectations of the Profile of a Virginia Graduate. The profile — which was adopted by the state Board of Education in November 2016 — describes the knowledge, skills, attributes and experiences identified by the board, higher education and employers as critical for future success.

“The innovation network is essential to the kind of work we are trying to do in Virginia to build capacity in school divisions for innovation,” Superintendent for Public Instruction James Lane said.

“The divisions coming together to form the first network cohort will learn from each other about how to build competency-based instructional programs that foster deeper learning and allow students to move forward at their own pace. If we want to take Virginia’s public schools to the next level, it has to be done division-by-division. Every division has unique characteristics but every division also has ideas and experiences to share that can impact outcomes for students elsewhere in the commonwealth.”

Specifically, the Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network seeks to:

·         Leverage high-quality resources and customized support for school divisions to create opportunities for students to obtain the knowledge, skills, experiences and attributes described by the Profile of a Virginia Graduate;

·         Implement systemic innovations over a two-year period specific to local community needs, including internships with employers, interdisciplinary curriculum, innovative instructional practices and performance assessments and;

·         Establish the Virginia Is for Learners Innovation Network as a permanent structure for the sharing of innovations and best practices.

The 31 school divisions — grouped into 26 teams — making up the first network cohort are as follows:

·         Albemarle County            

·         Alleghany County

·         Augusta County and Fluvanna County

·         Bedford County

·         Buchanan County

·         Caroline County

·         Cumberland County and Louisa County 

·         Franklin County

·         Goochland County

·         Greene County

·         Halifax County     

·         Hopewell

·         Loudoun County

·         Madison County and Orange County

·         Manassas Park    

·         Mecklenburg County

·         Middlesex County, Poquoson and West Point

·         Newport News

·         Norton      

·         Petersburg

·         Powhatan County

·         Roanoke County

·         Rockingham County        

·         Suffolk     

·         Virginia Beach      

·         Washington County

“In creating this first cohort, VDOE and its partners struck a balance between divisions that are leaders in innovation and divisions that are eager to learn about what is happening in classrooms in other parts of the state that they might adapt to meet the needs of their own students,” Lane said.

The network’s activities are funded through a $125,000 federal Title II grant from VDOE to James Madison University; a $35,000 grant to the Virginia School Consortium for Learning from Jobs for the Future (JFF), a national nonprofit focused on broadening educational and economic opportunity; and a $125,000 grant to the consortium from philanthropist Ted Dintersmith.

Dintersmith is a retired venture capitalist and the author of What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America, and the producer of Most Likely to Succeed, an award-winning documentary on education innovation. Dintersmith advocates for a greater emphasis on cross-disciplinary, project-based learning in public schools.

“I understand there is a healthy role for standardized tests being used thoughtfully and diagnostically in schools,” Dintersmith said. “We need to give every student a chance to have the basic skills so they can move forward. But as they move forward, students need to pursue and create their own differentiated creative paths, and that is the antithesis of standardized education. There is a tremendous amount of pent-up innovation and creativity in students and teachers across Virginia, and unleashing it will give our kids decisive advantage as adults in the fast-paced, dynamic 21st century.”

“Every learner — with no exceptions — deserves to graduate with competencies that will help them find life success,” Virginia School Consortium for Learning Executive Director Pam Moran said. “This network supports the development of innovative initiatives at the grassroots level to implement the Profile of a Virginia Graduate in every school division in the commonwealth.”

Cohort members are being supported in their work by Advanced Learning Partnerships, a North Carolina-based consultancy specializing in innovative learning models, and Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Colorado Denver Scott McLeod, a nationally recognized expert in school leadership and innovation. Advanced Learning Partnerships is providing a coach for each team in the cohort.

Teams from the 31 divisions will gather for additional Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network sessions on July 25, October 7-9 and December 13.

In early 2020, school divisions not participating in the first cohort will be invited to apply to be part of the second Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network cohort.