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Innovation school to become part of East Zone

Tentative opening date is August 2024

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Apr 7, 2021


The school district is moving forward with a pre-k through eighth grade innovation school in the East Zone, which has tentatively been scheduled to open in August 2024.

“This is the right school for the right location at the right time,” Operating Planning & Project Management Executive Director Kathie Ebaugh said.

The site, which the district owns, is close to Florida Gulf Coast University on Treeline Avenue and represents the diverse population from which the school will be pulling.

“We know that the schools in this area are highly selective. The area elementary schools are over utilized,” Ebaugh said. “The recommendations of our site and school type for this campus is based on over two years of work our team (has been) collaboratively working on.”

The innovation school will be prek-8 with a projected rolling student enrollment of 1,500 students.

Ebaugh said one of the primary reasons they selected the site, except for 10 percent greater percentage of African American students and 10 percent less of white students, the site vastly mirrors the county.

Ebaugh said the central area in which African Americans would be pulled from is 23.5 percent, compared to the district as a whole of 14 percent.

“There is a higher percentage of African American students in this central area (in which) this school is pulling from. In the white population the population is about 29 percent and the district as a whole is 38 percent, about 10 percent less.”

She said they were also looking for a site that provided accessibility for FGCU students.

The project has an estimated cost of $75 million, which Ebaugh said is similar to a K-8 school in Estero.

“We are budgeting this in the same realm in Estero,” she said.

Ebaugh said they are looking for spaces that integrate together, collaborative spaces, for the innovation school. They are looking for the indoors and outdoors coming together, rather than isolated classrooms and media centers.

Whenever the district can break down barriers and walls, Ebaugh said they will.

Ebaugh said there are prototypes of an innovation school across the state and beyond, which they will be able to tap into.

“We don’t have a specific prototype in mind,” she said, adding that during the design process they are asking architects to share what their concepts would be. “We are being very specific to what we are expecting and what kind of design and construction of campus. The core facilities are meant to be large flexible spaces, large development classrooms.”

Ebaugh said they are looking for them to bring the district prototype examples and help identify the opportunities to meet their budget.

The board gave a nod of consensus to go forward with putting the scope on the street to start the process of hiring an architect, construction manger and building official.

Florida Gulf Coast University Associate Professor & Program Coordinator Dr. Michelle Stork said students will be collaborating across grades, such as kindergarten and first grade students working together, second and third graders and third and fourth graders. There will be small groups working together on certain content areas based on cross-curriculum projects.

This will provide students with the ability and opportunity to communicate, collaborate and think creatively.

Teaching and Learning Director Dr. Bethany Quisenberry said on Aug. 28, 2018 the district entered into a memorandum of understanding with Florida Gulf Coast University, which began the creation of the innovation committee comprised of members of FGCU and the district office.

The school board received its first presentation of the innovation school in 2019, followed by FGCU education college staff, curriculum advisory committee and district advisory committee.

“We moved into additional sub committees and are focusing on taking (those) ideas and theories and move that into implementation and what it will look like inside a school building,” Quisenberry said.

The vision –which will be reevaluated and updated once the school is completed — was created to help guide the district in the work being done. The vision is to inspire motivation through instructional best practices that includes critical thinking and collaboration, a model they hope will spread throughout the district, state and nation, she said.

“This will be a first of its kind. When we began doing research, all of the schools are with universities, charter, or private,” Quisenberry said of innovation schools. “They don’t have to follow all the same guidelines as public schools has to follow.”

The innovation school has a projected opening date of August 2024. Professional Development Assistant Director Dr. Helen Martin said they will begin hiring a principal, secretary and bookkeeper in the fall of 2023, while the rest of the staff will be hired and begin by late summer 2024.

She told the board that the committee has two human resource related requests, one of which is a new job description for an information literacy specialist. The specialist would be a coach and teacher who works to promote 21st century literacy skills across all content areas.

“The role will take bits and pieces of existing roles in the district, but adds an increased focus on critical consumers of information, but also producers of information while coaching teachers to develop, plan and implement cross curricular project base learning units,” Martin said.

They hope to hire the specialist, as well as the assistant principal eight months earlier than traditionally hired.

“The rationale is giving those two individuals an opportunity to be brought up to speed to the mission, vision and guiding principals for the school and collaborate with the principal to build a meaningful professional development plan for the onboarding of faculty and staff into the building,” Martin said.

According to Stork, two positions have already been hired. Those two individuals include Clinical Assistant Professor of Learning Design and Innovation Dr. Nate Turcotte and Clinical Assistant Professor of Early Childhood/Early Elementary Education Dr. Melissa Meehan.

Turcotte, Stork said, will be working with building administrators, proposed information literacy specialist and instructional staff to develop programming and designing and conduct research and evaluate effectiveness of learning common space. Meehan also will work with building administration and faculty as professional development support, as well as a liaison for outreach expanded programming offering and support for teachers and students.

Quisenberry said there will be professional development offered because sometimes “we tend to teach the way we were taught.”

“Teachers want to be innovative, but they are unsure of how to implement,” she said of providing in the moment professional development. “There will be professors located at the school. They would be able to provide the guidance and in the moment observations to help guide the work.”

Teaching and Learning Director Candace Allevato said the innovation school will also act as the professional development hub as well, as teachers from all schools will have the opportunity to visit the school. She said they will be able to see in the classrooms and learn alongside teachers and take best practices back to their school.

Allevato said everything for the innovation school is rooted in inquiry, providing students hands-on learning experiences.

“The heart of it is literacy — reading and writing is the heart of this school,” she said.

The school will also follow the four C’s — collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. Allevato said they want to take experiences and apply it to the students own personal self, so it can be carried onto the future.

“We really want to embrace the four C’s, utilize technology and have students become producers of technology. To use it to communicate and collaborate, create and innovate in a different way,” she said.

The school board shared many positive comments, as they all love the project based learning and collaborative learning atmosphere.

“I’m really excited about this. I love the idea of partnering with local universities,” Board Chair Debbie Jordan said. “Everyone is going to want to go to this school.”