Members of the Owensboro Board of Education voted in approval on Thursday to file a District of Innovation application, which could potentially bring about changes for schools in the Owensboro Public Schools district, such as Owensboro Innovation Academy (OIA) and the soon-to-be iMiddle.
OPS must refile an application with the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE), which operates through the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), every five years in order to retain their district of innovation status. This allows schools such as OIA and iMiddle to be exempt from certain administrative regulations and statutory provisions, as well as waiving local board policy in an attempt to improve the learning of students.
OPS Chief Academic Officer Dr. Matthew Constant said those who apply to KBE must show their district is willing to step out and try something new, and that a vision for the district’s next five years must be submitted.
OPS first got the designation in fall 2013, Superintendent Nick Brake said.
OPS offers several different schools and programs that fit into the realm of an innovation district. Aside from OIA and iMiddle, OPS also offers the Early Learning Academy, the Bluegrass Scholars Program and the Early College Academy.
“We probably could have done some of those programs without the designation, but this definitely helps us when we have certification issues with teachers and programming questions that we want to try to get around — this is sort of our protection,” Constant said. “We feel like we’ve gotten enough benefit from the past to be able to apply again.”
Constant said it was a tough process to outline an innovative vision for OPS’s next five years, but OPS officials were able to draw out a five-year plan to be submitted to KBE.
“In addition to continuing the things we’ve been doing, we want to open, of course, the iMiddle space. Teacher certification issues in that building and middle school certifications are tricky,” Constant said. “What has been at OMS South has been sort of holdovers of elementary teachers and so we wanted to get this certification in case we have to go to KDE and say, ‘Can you help us with this certification issue, or this programming issue?’”
Constant said OPS wants a new school designation as well. OIA and iMiddle don’t fit into any of the school classification boxes, which range from A1 to A6.
Constant said OIA is currently having issues with its lack of a school designation because students from different districts are under the same roof and must abide by different protocol for events like state-wide testing.
“When kids are testing, the tests come to Apollo, to Daviess County and to OHS — three different codes. When the tests are administered and the teacher gets in the room, these people have to use these codes, and these people have to use these codes, and it’s just a confusing mess,” Constant said. “We want KDE to be able to say OIA is the primary enrollment of school.”
Right now, students who attend OIA are also enrolled at either AHS, DCHS or OHS, and they are secondarily enrolled at OIA. Constant said OPS wants that to be flipped. This allows OIA to be a standalone school — one that can take attendance, for example.
“Let’s say that charter schools end up being called A7 schools,” Brake said. “We’re asking that they simply make the same designation, but instead of charter schools, call it an innovation school.”
Brake said while students are allowed to play sports or participate in activities like band at AHS, DCHS and OHS, they’re indicating on tests and other documents that they also attend those schools when, oftentimes, they’ve never stepped foot inside those schools.
“We’re asking them to correct something that’s — really — wrong,” Brake said. “It would make it easier for us to continue a partnership with the county schools. We think this is going to give it longevity.”
Just this week, Constant said OPS has received reports of teacher shortages across the state, so part of OPS’s five-year plan is to make the teaching profession more attractive, especially for recent college graduates.
“[This applies to those] who want to have multiple, different jobs within the teaching profession, so that they do not see themselves as 25 years of teaching third grade in this classroom,” Constant said. “That has been great and fine for a lot of our employees, but for the ones of our future — especially the ones who show leadership potential — we’re underutilizing those people.”
Constant said OPS wants to create a different design that rewards teachers with leadership potential for their duties, including higher pay and more responsibility.
“It’s probably preliminary for us to talk about what that’s going to be like, but we want to put it in there because we feel like it’s going to be important in the future for us to be competitive and, really, for us to be on the innovation side of having the highest quality teaching core in this area,” Brake said.