Schools to unveil nontraditional pilot program at next board meeting

WILLIAMSBURG — A new approach to education will be coming soon to Williamsburg-James City County Schools.

On Wednesday night, Superintendent Steve Constantino said the details of a pilot program aimed at re-imagining the typical high school structure will be unveiled at Tuesday night’s School Board meeting.

Without going into any detail, Constantino said the program would begin with just 100 students and would be based on the principles of “student-centered learning.”

Constantino’s comments 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.

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 the pilot program he will be announcing on Tuesday will be based on the revolutionary student-centered learning model, he is not going to re-create WJCC schools into the image of High Tech High.

“One of the messages in this film is that there will be fear in parents. We aren’t trying to replicate High Tech High,” he said. “We are trying to do something that works for our community.”

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

The award was to cover the cost of planning “a bold, innovative program aimed at building the workforce of the 21st century,” according to a press release from WJCC at the time. The press release also said the pilot program would be “an innovative high school experience where students are engaged in the design of their own learning.”

Only four other school districts in the state received high school innovation planning grants - Fairfax County, 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 $50,000 grant was used for the planning stages of the pilot program. Funding for the implementation of the program will be pulled from the proposed 2017 budget, Constantino said, although it is not specifically allocated in any line item. He said he is hoping for additional funding from the state.

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

Event organizers said over 230 people attended the screening of "Most Likely to Succeed."

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