Overlook of the Upper Carmen in Idaho

Talking Innovation Schools With Representative Wendy Horman

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Wendy Horman - Head ShotRep. Horman, District 30, Idaho Falls, is a former president of the Idaho school boards association and author of the Local Innovation School Act that was signed into law on March 31st.

 

What is the Local Innovation School Act?

The idea behind the bill is to allow the professionals who work closest with Idaho’s children to define how they view success for students and to allow them to create the environment to achieve that. This bill empowers local decision making by bringing teachers, principals, superintendents, and school boards together to identify rules that are impeding their ability to be agile, innovative and to adapt to local circumstances. Local building level innovators can create autonomy by negotiating an Innovation School Agreement with their local school board. This creates waivers to relieve restraints in order to achieve specific performance goals. This bill allows for innovation through a carefully managed pilot for up to 10 Innovation Schools around Idaho each year for five years.

Why does Idaho need this innovative option?

First of all, it is part of the Governor’s Taskforce recommendations to empower autonomy by removing constraints. An Innovation School is given flexibility by removing restraints, in exchange for higher accountability. Secondly, for too long many of us have felt that the Federal Government has been making too many decisions about what must happen in local classrooms. With the recent end of No Child Left Behind, the Federal Government has recognized that innovation can drive improvement, and this bill encourages innovation at the local level.

Charter public schools in Idaho already have some opportunities for flexibility, through curricular choices and their performance certificates, and this option opens the door for traditional public schools to have the same opportunities to make governance decisions at a local level.

How did the idea for Innovation Schools for Idaho come about?

I had noticed that there had not been any work done on this specific taskforce recommendation yet and was not aware of any near-term plans to work on it. I thought it was an important recommendation and that it was time to take a look at ideas around legislation to support it. I had the opportunity to meet with folks from Colorado and Indiana who are doing work on Innovation Schools in their states and the more I learned the more impressed I was. I received the chance, along with Representative Judy Boyle, to visit the Innovation Schools in Colorado and to meet with the policymakers who were involved in their creation. From there, we brought it back to Idaho and with the help of Representative Steve Harris, decided to see if we could move something to support innovation here this session.

What are you hoping this new option helps to accomplish in Idaho?

The best way to predict the future is to invent it, and that’s what this allows. It creates a carefully managed pilot, with appropriate controls in place, that recognizes that a one size fits all system doesn’t get it done for every child or every educator. The Local Innovation School Act creates a sense of ownership, autonomy, and empowers teachers, principals, superintendents, and school boards to think freely about what their ideal classroom looks and feels like.

This is a message from the legislature – we want to encourage you to be innovative. I’m hoping this will be a great thing for kids, teachers, and communities and will open up space for innovation.

What opportunities do you see this creating for schools?

Two nights ago I received a call from a teacher in South Eastern Idaho. She was looking into an idea around STEM Innovation and found this option and wanted to know more. I’ve also heard interest from the Nampa School District about a mastery based high school in a 1-to-1 environment and from the Melba School District about implementing Expeditionary Learning in an elementary school. I suspect there will be interest all around the state.

In the coming years the state will take on a general review of all rules and laws that effect Idaho’s schools and these innovation schools will help inform that work. If the schools are asking for flexibility in seat-time, assessments, or how they spend their money, then we can learn from that as we embark on the review process. These Innovation Schools will help inform the eventual statewide conversation around flexibility and innovation.

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