By Heather Bell
RADFORD – Radford City Public Schools have been chosen as a School Division of Innovation, a designation that can lead to grant opportunities and more.
The School Divisions of Innovation program was authorized by the 2017 General Assembly. It recognizes school divisions “for designing and implementing alternatives to traditional instructional practices and school structures to improve student learning and promote college and career readiness and good citizenship,” according to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). The designation of the Radford City Public Schools will be in place from the 2022-23 school year through 2027-28.
Radford Superintendent Robert Graham said the designation means a lot for Radford.
“This will open up the opportunity to bring in even more resources than we have now,” said Graham. “ Building new partnerships, strengthening ongoing partnerships, grant opportunities, new and innovative courses, project-based learning and assessments as well as 21st-century learning are all possibilities for RCPS with this new designation.”
To earn the School Division of Innovation designation, Radford City Public Schools had to submit a plan to the VDOE.
That plan the school system submitted reads as follows:
“Radford City Public Schools (RCPS) aspires to offer its students an education that is relevant, relatable, and interactive. When the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) developed and published its Profile of a High School Graduate, RCPS knew that a change in instructional delivery was needed to make students “life-ready.” Jobs in scientific, technical, or healthcare areas were exploding, and the division began its response by visiting innovative school divisions including High Tech High in San Diego, Calif., exploring STEM programs including Warhill High School in Williamsburg, Va., and diving into high-quality teacher professional development (PD), including ‘Lesson Study.’
“RCPS adopted a hybrid schedule to increase hands-on, interactive learning; trained teachers in Project Lead the Way practices; and began the task of integrating core content with technology strands and standards. RCPS accomplished much in the years prior to COVID-19 and was dedicating funding and resources to the “life ready” initiative. One might think that COVID-19 slowed the division’s momentum with big change, but it gave the teachers more opportunities to engage in technology while helping their students find creative ways to interact virtually.
“Training in Computer Science (CS) practices have continued, PLTW professional development and course implementation is ongoing, and the integrated education movement is as important to the division as it was prior to the pandemic. RCPS is committed not only to completing its work, but now more than ever is energized by what it has learned in the last five years and isready to take it to the next level.
“STEM+C (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math + Computational Thinking) is now our focus. The STEM+C’s primary goals are building well-defined career pathways, K-12, and showcasing student work through exhibitions. These two goals encompass many subgoals within them such as adding PLTW Engineering and PLTW Biomedical career paths, increasing the number of CTE certifications earned, and senior capstone projects.
“As it moves forward, the division will evaluate its efforts through a variety of measurement practices. For example, enrollment of at-risk students in STEM courses and those who earn certificates and/or internships will be tracked. Pre- and post- student, staff, and community surveys will help the division to see the value in student exhibitions and senior capstone projects. Digital portfolios will help students monitor their own progress as well as guide teachers in knowing the areas in which children have an interest so as to better guide them in their career path. RCPS administrators will monitor teachers’ progress with integrated lesson plans, lesson delivery, and electronic portfolios.
“RCPS is excited about the future of its schools and feels the STEM+C initiative will help its students to be both ‘life ready’ and ‘lifelong learners.’ The initiative will continue to grow teacher pedagogy as well as strengthen student engagement. Focusing on certifications and senior capstone projects will produce students with confidence. The many positive outcomes of this initiative make STEM+C a win-win for Radford City.”
VDOE officials said the School Divisions of Innovation program is important for the entire commonwealth as other school divisions can learn from what works in the designated divisions. The program “provides a laboratory for innovative approaches to improve outcomes for students and determine whether these innovations have the potential to impact statewide policy decisions,” Board of Education President Daniel Gecker said of the program in 2021. “The board looks forward to seeing how these divisions move forward with their innovations and how they impact student performance and outcomes,” Gecker said