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One local high school is using a state grant to reconceive the way Virginia students learn.
Warhill High School in the Williamsburg-James City County school division received one of five $50,000 high school innovation planning grants, aimed at transforming the state’s educational model.
Fairfax County, Newport News, Salem and Richmond public schools also received grants.
The grants were proposed by the state’s Standards of Learning Innovation Committee, and were approved by the General Assembly in its fiscal year 2016 budget.
“These grants are a great first step towards preparing all of our students to succeed,” Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton said in a news release. “By allowing five divisions to develop their own individualized approaches, we have empowered our local education leaders and students like never before.”
Warhill’s grant proposal, called “MySchool@WHS,” focused on self-directed learning, flexible pacing and student independence. The program, including professional development models and designing curriculum and learning materials, is being developed in conjunction with the College of William & Mary’s School of Education.
“The idea is that there’s no such thing as ‘one-size-fits-all’ learning,” Warhill Principal Jeffrey Carroll said. “This is about personalized learning.”
Carroll said much of the idea for the grant proposal came from Warhill’s involvement in Project Lead the Way, a curricular and professional development program related to science, technology, engineering and math. Under the program, students involved in Warhill’s engineering classes practice “design thinking,” keeping notebooks to plan out solutions to complex problems.
Another influence was the school’s partnership with William & Mary’s Mason School of Business, which incorporates design thinking in certain courses.
“It seemed like a natural fit for Warhill,” Carroll said.
One of the central components of MySchool@WHS will be the creation of “personalized learning pathways” for each student, which will map out their course of study for all four years of high school. The grant proposal said the development of PLPs would help students prepare for post-high school plans, from college to careers.
Warhill staff will spend the next year fully realizing the proposal, having it ready for implementation during the 2016-17 school year. No additional funds will come from the state after the planning process, leaving the school division to fund the implementation from existing sources.
Carroll said the final product would have a reach beyond the walls of Warhill.
“We’re very excited about it,” he said. “It’s a unique opportunity for Warhill High School and for WJCC and William & Mary.”
The state hopes the five selected programs will be successful enough for potential implementation throughout Virginia.
“Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the General Assembly challenged school divisions to think outside the box and develop nontraditional approaches to instruction, measurement of content mastery and school governance,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples said in a news release. “These planning grants will allow the five most promising proposals to move from vision to reality.”