photo“How do we make sure students are ready for the 21st century?” This was the guiding question of the inaugural convening of innovateNJ, a network of ten innovation-minded school districts from across New Jersey. This week, the New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of School Innovation hosted the inaugural convening of what they are calling the innovateNJ Community. Our district is fortunate to be included among these ten inaugural districts:

  • Elizabeth Public Schools
  • Freehold Township School District
  • Jefferson Township Public Schools
  • Long Branch Public Schools
  • Monroe Township Public Schools
  • Mountain Lakes School District
  • Pascack Valley Regional High School
  • Randolph Township Schools
  • Westfield Public Schools
  • West Morris Regional High School

The convening this week featured introductions by Takecia Saylor, the Director of the Office of School Innovation and Evo Popoff, the Assistant Commissioner of Education and Chief Innovation Officer of New Jersey. Takecia and Evo gave inspiring talks about the need for innovative approaches in our schools. One program in particular mentioned by Evo as a place where schools can innovate is New Jersey’s Option II program which is a nickname for a part of the state’s administrative code which sets graduation requirements. As Randolph’s Option II coordinator Kerry Eberhardt writes on her Option II website, “Option II allows districts to create a program through which students may earn credit toward graduation in a non-tradtional way.” Evo made a point that a key part of school innovation is giving students flexibility to explore their passions. The Option II program is a place where students are able to do this and show what they have accomplished through a capstone project. To see the power of this program, watch our student Josh’s Option II project called The Immigrants’ Story:

The Office of School Innovation hopes to use this inaugural meeting as a way to grow the innovateNJ Community. Over the next few months, inaugural members will look to partner with school districts wishing to learn more about the program and approaches to innovation. The vision of the innovateNJ Community is to identify pertinent and pressing challenges that members encounter as leaders of innovative school districts. Members will work as teams to clearly define challenges, ideate solutions, and devise action plans for continued progress between community meetings. If you are a school district interested in participating in the community, please reach out to a member district as new applicants will be accepted in the fall. It is the long-term hope of the Department of Education that this community will also assist with planning and running a statewide innovation summit. More information about the innovateNJ initiative can be found here.


images3 Things I Learned from the Meeting:

  1. There is a national organization called the League of Innovative Schools featuring 46 public school districts and education agencies in 25 states.
  2. This video called The Future of Learning is a microcosm of the many ideas currently swirling around education in the United States.
  3. 3-D printing is going to play a big role in the future of innovative schools.

2 Things I Found Interesting:

  1. Pascack Valley School District has eliminated history textbooks and replaced them with electronic databases like JStor.
  2. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model is quickly becoming a way innovative schools frame their approach to educational technology.

    SAMR Model

1 Question I Still Have:

  1. How do we continue the momentum towards more innovation in our schools that we saw generated at the first meeting?

The innovateNJ Community is an amazing opportunity for school districts to collaborate in efforts to make schools more dynamic and student-centered. Hopefully, by giving districts time and a platform to collaborate, innovation will hasten and it will become apparent that New Jersey is home to many progressive and amazing schools.