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Tupelo looks to become District of Innovation

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The Tupelo Public Schools are looking to become a District of innovation.

Mississippi currently has six other Districts of Innovation with Tupelo looking to become the seventh in 2019. Before applying with the Mississippi Department of Education, the Tupelo School District is asking people to take a survey to find out their greatest needs so that they will be able to work at creating various innovative programs to meet the needs of their students.

The MDE website describes the purpose of a District of Innovation or School of Innovation as being: “To better prepare students for success in life and work.  In order to enhance options and programming for students, districts offering innovative programs may need flexibility to meet goals and performance targets based on state requirements.’

Stewart McMillan serves as the Innovation Program Facilitator at Tupelo Public School District and said areas for innovation could include focusing on college and career readiness, expanding early childhood education options, potentially meeting the needs of underserved children, English language learner students, or special education needs.

“I am looking forward to getting the data from all of the stakeholders to identify what really are our greatest needs and then how do we tailor programs or staffing, or support structure to be able to meet those needs,” McMillan said.

McMillan added that four of the five school Districts of Innovation have requested waivers to the MS code 37-13-67 which requires students to have 330 minutes of teaching time in the school day.

“It limits students if students were going to, for example, take a more personalized learning approach and be able to take online or night classes, or if they were going to intern during the day and have flexible scheduling, having the waiver could open up the door for personalized learning and various other opportunities.”

Another potential waiver that the school district is looking into deals with teacher certification.

In Mississippi, school districts are required to make sure the professional staff in each school is composed of no more than 5% of Full-Time Equivalent units working outside the areas of endorsement.

“There are four of the five Districts of Innovation that have applications online that have requested a waiver to this requirement in order to hire individuals that are rich in content knowledge rather than licensed educators to lead instruction,” McMillan said.

Tupelo’s plan is to apply through December to identify their greatest needs and then use the following semester to work on the application and identify how the innovative programs will meet the students’ needs. McMillan added that they plan on applying to become a District of Innovation in 2019 with the hopes of officially becoming a District of Innovation by the fall of 2021. However, the school district will be moving toward becoming an innovative school district before the official ruling by the State Board of Education is handed down.

“Ideally we will be starting next school year with some things that we can implement before we have the need of getting waivers, but the official District of Innovation title will be determined in March of 2020,” McMillan said.

 

 

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