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Kansas: Writing the School Redesign Manual

• Karla Phillips

Earlier this week, we introduced the Kansas State Department of Education’s (KSDE) space-themed school redesign project, which could liberate and support schools to reimagine learning to achieve the state’s new vision for education: leading the world in the success of each student.

In summary, Kansas’ school redesign project launched in August 2017 with Mercury 7—the seven school districts selected to participate in the projects first cohort. Each school designated two schools (one elementary and one secondary) to be redesigned around the five outcomes:

  1. Social-emotional growth, measured locally;
  2. Kindergarten readiness;
  3. Individual Plan of Study based on career interest;
  4. High school graduation; and
  5. Postsecondary success.

A Year of Progress

The project is well underway, and Mercury 7 has nearly completed its first year, marked by four distinct phases. Supported by KSDE redesign specialists, schools have built the launch pad, designed and built the rocket and are now prepping to launch. (See image below for details on these four phases.)

Kansas School Redesign Timeline

Image Source: Kansas State Department of Education

The countdown to the official launch is still a few months out, but KSDE staff visits have provided a sneak peek of what’s in store—including elements of personalized learning.

“Some examples of what our Mercury secondary schools are ‘trying on’ include a different, more flexible schedule to allow students more personalized learning time and also more one-on-one time with a staff member (mentor, advisor), more project-based learning and building in more community service and work-based learning opportunities for students,” said KSDE’s secondary redesign specialist Jay Scott.

The schools’ staff and students, Scott noted, are beginning to experience some of the innovative methods that will eventually transform their current systems into ones that prioritize each individual student.

Writing the “Flight Manual”

The Mercury 7’s new school designs are slated for launch in the 2018-2019 school year. Between the original Mercury 7 cohort and the Gemini I and Gemini II cohorts, 47 districts with 103 schools are participating in the school redesign project, with a goal of all 286 districts being redesigned by 2026!

When the Mercury 7 school districts embarked on the journey to redesign schools last year, there was no guidebook. That won’t be the case for future schools in the state. Experiences captured from participating schools over the last year as well as input from service centers and other educational organizations, is being compiled in a “flight manual” for other districts.

This manual will clarify the redesign process for new districts by offering suggested structures, protocols and resources schools can use to begin their own redesign process. Not every district is a trailblazer—and this flight manual will equip districts that want to act but don’t necessarily know how to proceed.

With the help of EdElements and Four Points Learning, the flight manual will be released in August as well as more extensive educator professional development for participating schools.

I’m excited to see what the seven districts have learned throughout this year and how this project unfolds to improve learning for Kansas students!

About the author

Karla Phillips

Karla is Policy Director for Next Generation Learning at ExcelinEd. Previously, she served as Special Assistant to the Deputy Superintendent of Policy and Programs at the Arizona Department of Education. Karla also served as the Education Policy Advisor for Governor Brewer and as the Vice-Chair of Arizona’s Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. Her experience includes serving as Director of State Government Relations for Arizona State University (ASU) and as a senior policy advisor for Arizona’s House of Representatives. Karla received her B.A. from Indiana University and an M.P.A from Arizona State University.