UPDATED: State Board approves all school redesign plans

At 14 schools in seven districts, teachers are going to teach differently, students are going to learn differently and Kansans are going to notice the difference.

That’s the hope of state education officials as the State Board of Education approved the initial batch of school redesign proposals on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Dubbed the Mercury 7, after the first group of astronauts in the United States, the schools will launch their new operations at the start of the next school year in August.

“Our Mercury schools are changing the culture of education in our state,” said Jay Scott, who along with Tammy Mitchell have provided the support to the schools from the Kansas State Department of Education.

With unanimous votes, the State Board of Education approved the redesign plans of Coffeyville USD 445 (Community Elementary, Field Kindly High); Liberal USD 480 (Meadowlark Elementary, Liberal High); McPherson USD 418 (Eisenhower Elementary, McPherson Middle); Olathe USD 233 (Westview Elementary, Santa Fe Trail Middle); Stockton USD 271 (Stockton Grade, Stockton High); Twin Valley USD 240 (Tescott Grade, Bennington Junior/Senior High) and Wellington USD 353 (Kennedy Elementary, Wellington High).

“We are ready to take our kids places they have never been,” said Kennedy Principal Stephanie Smith.

During two days of presentations, leaders from the schools outlined dozens of changes — big and small — aimed at providing personalized learning experiences for each student.

The changes ranged from getting rid of class change bells in high school to requiring middle school students to go on mock job interviews to pairing up kindergartners with older kids on school projects.

Under the redesign plans, teachers will lecture less and counsel more, parents will be incentivized to come into the buildings, and local communities will be called upon to provide internships and job shadowing opportunities.

More school staff will have more responsibilities to monitor the social and emotional health of students, school `families’ of teachers and students will provide support and students themselves will be more responsible for the pace and path of their learning.

There will be more project-based learning, blended grades, flexibility in schedules, course offerings and civic engagement.

The Mercury 7 schools were charged with changing an elementary and secondary school in alignment with the State Board’s Kansans Can vision of leading the world in the success of each student.

The schools must emphasize kindergarten readiness, individual plans of study focused on careers, increased high school graduation rates and post-secondary completion rates and social-emotional growth.

Since the selection of the Mercury 7 schools, 40 more districts, encompassing more than 100 schools, have signed onto the redesign effort and are now part of what is being called Gemini I and Gemini II.

The seeds of the redesign effort were planted several years ago when Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson conducted a series of town hall meetings across the state, asking Kansans what would a successful high school graduate look like.

Kansans said they wanted students with strong academics but also strong skills to succeed in college or the workplace. Those skills included being able to collaborate and communicate and become good citizens.

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