In 2014, Henry County Schools (HCS) in Georgia won a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in order to support and expand the personalized learning initiatives in their 51 schools across the district.
Inquiry Schools has been working with HCS since June of 2014 to help them make both the systemic and curricular changes to achieve their goal of bringing innovation to every building.
The schools have been divided into several cohorts, which go through the planning and implementation phases in waves. According to Inquiry Schools Managing Director Diana Laufenberg, the first phase of the work “helps teachers and administrators investigate the different ways personalized learning can manifest itself in their schools, and help them rethink the school-based structures so as to assist the process instead of provide barriers.”
With a district of this size, HCS receives both across-the-board and individualized assistance. All schools have received training around project-based learning, and Laufenberg has helped individual schools write their three-year professional development plan.
Once schools complete the planning phase, Inquiry Schools facilitates the following tasks:
- Transitioning to unit planning using the understanding by design framework
- Professional development around advisory programming
- Restructuring school schedules for more flexibility of time
- Introducing Blackboard as both a curricular and collaboration tool
In addition to these supports, Inquiry Schools plans and facilitates a one-week summer institute for all teachers. This year, eight specialists representing different disciplines will travel to Henry County to run the program, with a focus on curriculum design, technology integration, and advisory. The specialists then provide year-round support remotely for the teachers as they apply the lessons from the institute to their practice.
Two schools in the first cohort undergoing transformation are Luella High School and Middle School. Together, these two buildings serve 2,000 students.
“The symmetry of working with the two schools alongside each other is pretty delightful,” reports Laufenberg about the work. Since the middle school population feeds into the high school Inquiry Schools has provided guidance on unifying practices between buildings.
“Some of the systems we are setting up are pretty symbiotic between the two buildings,” says Laufenberg. “There’s a net all the way through, and has the potential to mitigate some of the difficulty in the transition from middle school to high school.”
The two Luella schools do not have a 1:1 laptop program, but do have devices for roughly one out of every three students in their computer labs. Inquiry Schools has advice HCS on innovative ways to maximize the effectiveness of their available devices for student learning.
“While being 1:1 is certainly a wonderful working scenario, there is much to be done in the world of PBL and Inquiry-Driven educational work when you are not so fortunate as to have a 1:1 program,” said Laufenberg of the HCS environment. “It really is about creating a dynamic learning environment with whatever technology you can bring to bear.”
Karen Perry, Special Projects Coordinator at HCS, echoed Inquiry School’s flexibility and Laufenberg’s focus on what matters. “She has advised schools through visioning, strategic planning, and the transition from traditional to student-centered learning and is an invaluable contributor to our team here in HCS. We appreciate her practical approach to change and her student-first perspective, while being supportive of teachers and staff.
Nine more HCS schools are in the second cohort, and Inquiry Schools will begin to work with them during the planning process in advance of the 2015-2016 school year.