Details about innovative high school pilot program coming on Tuesday

Ryan McKinnon

WILLIAMSBURG— More details about an innovative high school pilot program will be revealed at Tuesday night's Williamsburg-James City County School Board meeting.

The district is developing a pilot program for 100 students based on the principles of student-centered learning – an educational model that stresses the student's role in choosing how to learn. The program will be housed at Warhill High School with plans to eventually expand. It will begin in the Fall of 2016.

The project is made possible through a $50,000 high school innovation-planning grant the state awarded to WJCC in June.

Last week Superintendent Steve Constantino declined to go into detail about the program but said the School Board would receive an update on the project at Tuesday night's meeting.

WJCC may also receive additional grant funding for the project. The 2016 state budget passed by the General Assembly includes five $50,000 grants for the implementation of innovative high school programs. As a previous recipient of a planning grant, WJCC would automatically receive the implementation grant - if the grants survive the governor's review and remain in the budget.

In a letter from State Superintendent Steve Staples to Constantino dated April 5, 2016, Staples said the state was "encouraged by the progress you have shown in this short planning year, to reform high school into a more productive experience for all students."

Only four other school districts in the state received innovative planning grants: Fairfax, Newport News, Salem and a consortium of 10 Richmond-area school divisions led by Chesterfield.

"WJCC has the rare opportunity to lead the state in change," Constantino said. "We will be one of those few communities in the commonwealth that the state will say, 'Go and look what Williamsburg-James City County is doing."

The goal is for the school district to develop "a bold, innovative program aimed at building the workforce of the 21st century," according to a press release from WJCC in June.

Constantino's comments last week came at Wednesday night's screening of the educational documentary film "Most Likely to Succeed" at the William and Mary School of Education. The movie highlights the efforts of High Tech High in San Diego — a school that upended the traditional high school model and embraced the student-centered learning approach.

Instead of structured school days and standardized testing, students at High Tech High do group projects that culminate with a large, end-of-year exhibit for the community.

Constantino said while High Tech High offers an exciting example, "We aren't trying to replicate High Tech High. We are trying to do something that works for our community."

The William and Mary School of Education will partner with WJCC in the pilot program by evaluating student outcomes.

McKinnon can be reached at 757-345-2341.

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