BY LOGAN MCCOURTNEY –
Cossatot River High School has recently been recognized by the Arkansas Department of Education [ADE] as a School of Innovation by the Commissioner of Education for the State of Arkansas Johnny Key. To qualify for such a designation, district leaders presented a Schools of Innovation plan to the ADE that outlined new and creative concepts to the existing instructional and administrative practices. The changes proposed by district leaders are intended to improve academic performance and learning for all students. Mickey Ford submitted the plans of Cossatot High School for new and improved instructional and administrative methods. Cossatot’s vision is to “provide all students personalized learning opportunities for success and meeting individual needs through a flexible attendance schedule, self-pacing by students, and teacher mentors who will open up more avenues for student success.” Understanding that times are changing and today’s students are different from those in the past, Mr. Ford wants to help prepare students at Cossatot for the future, “We know that times are changing and kids learn differently. We want to set our kids up for success in any way possible. We can keep doing the same things and having the same results, but we want to help our students adapt.”
Over the last several years, the administration has seen numbers and percentages at Cossatot that have caused reason to be innovative and engage students in a different capacity. According to the latest ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) report Cossatot has “47% of all students achieving in literacy and 22% of all students achieving in math. CRHS is a high poverty school with 72% of students from families who are considered low-income households. The population of CRHS is made up of approximately 40% ESL [English as a Second Language) students. Enrollment at CRHS has decreased by 10% in the last three years.” Many factors contribute to this decrease in enrollment including students going to home school, families moving away to find work, and other students dropping out because of disengagement. Innovative changes not only make school more engaging, but for many students who may be struggling or need personalized attention, the changes make success more achievable. “We want to provide opportunities for the students that need more personalized one on one attention and mentoring so that they can have a high level of success,” says CRHS Principal DeWayne Taylor.
Many steps are being taken by the administration and faculty of CRHS to provide a learning environment that truly is resourceful and engaging for all students. There are many tenets to the Innovation Plan, but some of the key areas are 1.) reshaping the schedule, 2.) curriculum changes and blended learning, and 3. ) mentoring training and development. “We realize that not all students are in the same place academically and some want to move faster and others need to move at a pace that is better for them. These plans allows for that kind of learning,” states Ford. One of the primary ways that administration plans to better engage students is through blended learning opportunities. “We may have students who are easily grasping a concept in math and they are bored as the teacher is taking time to work with other students. Now with blended learning, those students could work ahead through the use of lessons and plans on the computer. Where students may have taken a year to finish a class, maybe some of them can finish in a semester. For those students that are struggling through and need more personal attention, we aren’t going to leave them behind. Instead, they are going to receive personal attention and tutoring to help them move at a pace that is good for their learning experience,” explains Ford.
Each of the steps of the Innovation Plan are currently being implemented at the high school in a variety of classrooms as administrators seek to find the optimal structure and set up that will allow for success for both teachers and students at CRHS. The mission through innovation for CRHS is “preparing 21st century graduates by providing individualized learning to all students, enabling them to become college and career ready according to their strengths and interests.” For more information about the Schools of Innovation and Cossatot River High School’s Innovation Plan, visit http://www.arkansased.gov/divisions/learning-services/schools-of-innovation and then find Cossatot River High School.