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Springfield City School District

Springfield City School District: Redefining Innovation in Education

Heather Rushworth

Springfield City School District rethinks education through close knit community engagement and a personalized approach to curriculum
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The Springfield City School District has greeted the demands of the current landscape of education with the optimistic flexibility needed to grow beyond the restrictions that oppose them. Creative use of their buildings and resources, evolution into the digital landscape, and the adaptation of curriculum to address individual student needs, has made Springfield City School District one of the most successfully progressive districts in Ohio.

 

District superintendent, Dr. David Estrop, articulates the district’s commitment to raising their standards of excellence. “We are very focused on improving student achievement particularly in reading and math, because we see these as fundamental tools for success in school as well as in life. We are working very hard in our elementary schools on new and innovative ways that we can improve literacy for all of our children, and we are doing that through alignment of what we call the written curriculum, taught curriculum, learned curriculum and assessed curriculum,” he says, “We aim to align the common core standards, all of our teacher organizers, all of our written material lesson plans, in perfect alignment with what the teachers teach, and what the students learn and what is assessed.”

 

VIEWING CHALLENGES AS OPPORTUNITIES

 

Their brave intentions will not be easy to manifest, as the Springfield district serves an urban demographic where seventy-six percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch. The district views the responsibility with reverence, and so pushes their district to reach higher and higher standards of success. Dr. Estrop explains, “In terms of progress, we are making large strides. In fact, the progress of our students in grades three through eight was rated 15th in the state of Ohio. So while we still have a ways to go, when we look at our success in terms of the progress we are making, that the kids are making, our hard work is paying off,” he says proudly.

 

In order to give their students the nurturing they deserve, Springfield needs more people engaged for longer periods with students. “What we have learned is we need more time, and more people to engage our students in learning,” says Estrop. However, like many public school districts the economic crisis spurred major budget cuts, and Springfield has to rely on the help of their community members in providing students with the valuable face time they need in their formative years. “Our goals have to be accomplished within the boundaries of existing resources. So our community members, and students from Wittenberg University and Cedarville University have stepped up and volunteered their participation to make it all happen,” says Estrop.

 

Fortunately, through an excellent expression of fiscal responsibility, Springfield has not had to lay off any staff. “We do not have to lay off boat loads of staff. Actually we are recruiting teachers and administrators. Through natural attrition, and retirement, we have vacant positions and we need to fill them, and we have the wear-with-all to fund them,” Estrop says. In fact, the district is uniquely in the position to add programming, “We are not eliminating programs, and not cutting staff. In fact, we are able to maintain what we have, and through reallocation and the pursuing of grants we have actually been able to add programs,” Estrop explains.

 

CREATING OPPORTUNTIES FOR THE COMMNUNITY

 

The grant funding Springfield won is nothing short of outstanding – all in all, the district raked in approximately eighteen million dollars in grant money within the years of 2010-2011 alone. The awarding parties including a ‘Race to the Top’ grant, a ‘Federal School Improvement Grant,’ and a ‘Race to the Top Innovative Program Grant.”

 

The district used the funding in absolutely innovative ways, structurally renewing their district for the twenty-first century. One of their biggest initiatives is their ‘LearningCafe,’ which opens up their High School Campus from 2:30 P.M. to 8:30 P.M., Monday through Thursday, converting the school into a hub of diverse opportunities for learning. “We have tutoring available, regular high school classes, certification programs for adults and students, adult classes like conversational Spanish, and we have some of our community partners who present fatherhood classes, exercise classes, nutrition, and some just plain fun classes like Hip-Hop,” Estrop explains.

 

The Learning Café is an opportunity to incorporate the warm dynamics of the community into student culture, so Springfield makes every effort to include residents. “We provide transportation and we also provide childcare, as well as classes for the younger children. We also have free meals for kids, and three dollar dinners for adults,” Estrop says.

 

In addition, the school district offers alternative methods for schooling, “Students ages five to adulthood can take online classes here through our virtual school, in addition to real-time classes, and our GED program,” Estrop explains.

 

CUSTOMIZABLE CURRICULUM

 

In addition to softening the barrier between community culture and education, Springfield also turns to its city residents for input into how they should shape their curriculum. In fact, when Springfield City School District discovered students and parents both wanted more choice and customizable options in their curriculum, particularly at the high school level, they restructured their high school, making it a utopia of individual preferences and personal options.

 

“At Springfield High School, which educates approximately 1,800 students, we have five Academies to choose from. The Exploratory Academy which is akin to a liberal arts education. The Preparatory Academy is for those students who need extra help in academically catching up. The Health and Human Services Academy is for those students interested in a career in health, law or the social sciences. The International Arts and Communication Academy is for those students interested in either our International Baccalaureate Program –which is the most rigorous academic track in the world – or those interested in broadcasting and the arts. And our STEM Academy is for students interested in pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering or math,” Estrop details.

 

This cornucopia of choices allows each individual student to unleash his’ or hers’ unique talents and explore their interests in profound and encouraging ways. It also prepares students for profitable and rewarding career paths. However, if Springfield students choose to begin their college journey early, they can as well. The district even offers a co-credit path where students can earn college credit while still in high school.

 

SPRINGFIELD IN FULL BLOOM

 

Springfield City School District’s commitment to innovation is impacting the way Ohio views possibilities in education. In fact, they are ranked in the top twenty-five most innovative school districts in Ohio state. The crux of this innovation has to do with Springfield’s commitment to hands-on, interactive learning. “We know from the research that anytime you apply learning it drives the learning deeper and the knowledge lasts longer. So what we are doing is spurring creativity and problem solving on the part of the students, to create outstanding results,” says Estrop. It is this drive that will shape Springfield’s students into the spectacular thinking citizens of tomorrow.

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