Opinion piece by Jackson Self
November 2015 – Palm Beach Post
Webster’s defines the term as “The act or process of introducing new ideas, devices or methods.” In a charter school, we teach students that innovation is unique to the challenge.
If the goal of innovating is to solve a problem, then isn’t school choice that solution? It must be. For instance, we can’t look at a student and assume the methods we used to educate other students will work. Each student must be treated as an individual with personal goals. Our teachers at Central Palm differentiate instruction based on each student and are responsive to their needs. That’s innovation.
After years of frustration, I chose to leave the traditional setting for Charter Schools USA. After arriving, I was able to exercise new teaching techniques 100 percent of the time when it benefited students. For example, at Central Palm this year we put together a group of teachers to create an online lesson planning system encompassing a “new research-based methodology.” We started with our current template and rebuilt it to make it more teacher-friendly and interactive for students.
Is this innovative? Yes! We didn’t build something from scratch but we improved it for the good of our teachers and students. In a traditional public school, teachers would have been forced to use a template.
As a principal, I avoid politics. However, I can say that our charter schools are more creative and innovative than a traditional school. But for whatever reason, the district insists upon challenging charters.
If the goal of “innovation” is to provide educators the power to do what is best of the classroom, then charters provide that model. If a teacher comes to me and says an approach used successfully in the past isn’t working, we work together to identify other research-based, data-driven solutions. In a traditional setting, the teacher would have been forced into yet another template.
Central Palm’s data-driven model is attractive to families. Last year, we began our inaugural year with 520 students. This fall we enrolled 775, a 49 percent increase. Additionally, our current students have embraced our innovative model. Out of our original 520 students, 512 (98.5 percent) recommitted this year. I challenge other schools to beat that retention rate.
Our data-driven model also works well academically. Classroom proficiency rates increased at nearly every grade level and in every concept area. Our annual fall assessments showed students entered their classrooms more equipped to tackle new subject matter.
In other words, at the beginning of the school year, not only did students show they mastered last year’s material, more are showing advanced proficiency.
I’m excited to see what Central Palm’s students will do in the future, but I’m worried the district might hold them back.
Central Palm currently serves students through seventh grade and will grow next year to eighth. Last week, the Palm Beach County School Board denied an application for a charter high school. While I’m confident my students are prepared to excel in any school setting, they’ll lose something if they’re forced into a less innovative environment.
Many of my colleagues in the traditional system would love to try the types of programs we initiate, but bureaucracy prevents them.
In a traditional system, waiting on bureaucratic red tape is the norm. In the meantime, what happens to the child who needs help today? With us, it happens now and it happens to meet the needs of the child.
Our parents define that as innovating.
The county School Board shouldn’t try to redefine it.
Jackson Self is the principal at Renaissance Charter School at Central Palm, part of the Charter Schools USA Network.