Alabama State Department of Education’s Innovation Zone / Flexibility initiative Approves Waiver

Topics: Early College High School, Education Policy, ESSA

Birmingham City Schools received approval on a waiver submitted under the Alabama State Department of Education’s Innovation Zone/Flexibility initiative. This waiver will create a five-campus feeder pattern known as the Woodlawn Innovation Network (WIN). The schools, Woodlawn High School, Hayes K-8 School, W.E. Putnam Middle School, Avondale Elementary School and Henry J. Oliver Elementary School, will be re-imagined around interest-based themes.

WIN serves more than 10% of the students in Birmingham and establishes a school feeder pattern powered by innovation. Birmingham City Schools has partnered with several key local, state and national organizations to launch WIN:

Schools will focus on master and competency-based learning, critical thinking and problem solving skills through every class, every day, PK-12.

Why Is The Waiver Important?

  • It allows the school district to recruit teachers and leaders with non-traditional backgrounds and certifications, particularly in the STEAM interest-based focus area
  • It allows principals to be have more autonomy in managing their schools, directly managing budgets and exercising flexibility in the way funds are spent.
  • It allows flexibility in awarding course credit (i.e., allowing targeted college courses to act as both college and high school credit; earning credit for a course by proving mastery of the subject matter, rather than completion of seat time; or earning credit for courses taught by partner organizations from the community).

“Based on our research and experience, the waiver approval will support the conditions for success that are necessary for innovation to happen on a large scale,” said Robin Kanaan, National Director of Teaching and Learning. “By reorganizing traditional school structures into models of innovation and moving from traditional classrooms to spaces of student-centered, blended learning focused on the academic growth of every child as they are immersed in Inquiry and problem-solving is the goal.”

Each school within the Woodlawn Innovation Zone is working with at least one dedicated KnowledgeWorks Technical Assistance Coach. Kanaan has been working across all of the schools, leading design sessions that let current school staff take an active role in planning the future vision for each school.

Woodlawn High School will be transformed into two autonomous KnowledgeWorks early college high schools, with one school focusing on business and finance and the other on the arts and environmental science.

In the early college high school model, every high school student the opportunity to earn up to 60 hours of college credit, or an associate degree and/or a professional certification during their four-year high school career. This would be accompanied by the student supports and structure inherent to the KnowledgeWorks early college high school model.

All schools from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade will focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, otherwise known as STEAM.

“Part of what makes the work successful is the support from KnowledgeWorks team of experienced coaches,” said KnowledgeWorks’ Harold Brown. “The amount of time and personal attention our experienced coaches provide out schools is unmatched. We focus on building teacher and leader capacity as well as enhancing knowledge and skills of school staff.”