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State names new school innovation zones

CHARLESTON, W.Va. --  The state Board of Education awarded Kanawha County Schools $300,000 in "innovation zone" funding on Thursday to help implement a new program that aims to decrease the high school dropout rate among students from Charleston's West Side.

The money will help implement a community school model program at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary, Stonewall Jackson Middle and Capital High that calls for community engagement and provides families support to "systematically improve the educational, social, emotional, physical and cultural outcomes of youth."

Schools that the state Department of Education approves as innovation zones receive waivers to state policy that let them try out new, research-based strategies in an effort to improve student learning.

Kanawha County's project, led by The Charleston Community and Family Development Corporation, aims to integrate public and private resources to provide comprehensive support for at-risk students from birth up to their transition between high school and college or a career.

The three "low performing" schools were chosen based on factors including poor graduation rates and a high percentage of students living in poverty, according to Kanawha County Schools' grant application.

Capital High's graduation rate is only about 57 percent, and more than 93 percent of students at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary come from low-income families.

As part of the initiative, community work groups will meet monthly to assess data and the current services offered to the schools' students, and will develop new interventions to reach out to the most at-risk students.

Students will participate in "development sessions" throughout the school year, which provide extra focus on skill building, ACT preparation, and career and college planning.

In addition, 100 middle and high school students will participate in a pre-college program that allows students to explore their college and career options firsthand through career shadowing and campus visits.

Other objectives include increasing the number of students engaged in out-of-school enrichment activities and improving attendance rates.

"Community school students show significant gains in academic achievement and in essential areas of nonacademic development. Families of community school students show increased stability, communication with teachers, school involvement and a greater sense of responsibility for their children's learning," the grant application states. "The community school model promotes more efficient use of school buildings and, as a result, neighborhoods enjoy increased security, heightened community pride and better rapport among students and residents."

The state school board awarded a total of more than $1.4 million in innovation zone funding for schools in Cabell, Barbour, McDowell and Mercer counties during a board meeting on Thursday.

"Members of the state board and I look forward to the progress these new innovation zone schools promise to make," said state Board of Education President Gayle Manchin. "Innovation zones are allowing our schools to adapt to changing times and embrace new ideas and new teaching strategies.

"They also give our schools greater flexibility and allow them to create learning facilities that reflect how children live and learn today and in the future."

For a detailed list of the 2013 innovation zone grant recipients, visit http://wvde.state.wv.us/innovationzones.

Also at Thursday's school board meeting, Manchin announced that the board plans to select a search firm to help find the next state superintendent of schools by January.

The state board also vowed to crack down on districts that allow retirees to monopolize substitute positions, saying it pushes new teaching graduates to look for jobs outside the state.

 Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.

 


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