In June of 2009, the West Virginia legislature recognized the importance of providing schools with the autonomy they need to solve educational problems and increase student achievement. W. Va. Code §18-5B-1 through §18-5B-9 describes the provisions of the School Innovation Zones Act that allows schools to meet the needs of today's 21st century learner through increased flexibility. WVBE Policy 3236 was written in collaboration with practicing educators, state teacher organization representatives, as well as business and community representatives to provide guidelines to implement education Innovation Zones. While greater flexibility is key, Innovation Zones also provide us with the opportunity to measure the impact of specific innovations on student achievement while holding public education accountable to meeting high standards. To learn more about West Virginia Innovation Zones, visit the Frequently Asked Questions portion of the Innovation Zone website.
Two consortiums of schools in Cabell County were awarded Innovation Zone planning grants by the West Virginia Board of Education in January of 2010. The elementary schools consortium was formed by eight elementary schools - Altizer, Central City, Cox Landing, Davis Creek, Martha, Peyton, Salt Rock and Southside - interested in raising the achievement of all students by implementing professional learning communities. Cabell's elementary consortium was awarded the largest planning grant of the nineteen awarded across the state. The secondary schools consortium was awarded the third largest planning grant and seeks to redesign the high school expererience by emphasizing rigor, relevance and relationships through a variety of innovative measures.
In 2013, Cabell County Schools applied for and received two additional Innovation Zone grants--one to explore and introduce the Reggio model in the district's preschool classrooms; the other, to create an elementary school based on expeditionary learning through a partnership with EL Education.
At the heart of the Reggio philosophy is the belief that children are full of curiosity and creativity, rather than empty vessels waiting to be filled with facts and figures. The Reggio-inspired curriculum is flexible and emerges from children’s ideas, thoughts and observations (see the snails project). The Reggio goal is to cultivate within children a lifelong passion for learning and exploration.
Cabell County's first EL Education school, the Explorer Academy, opened its doors in August 2015 at the site of the former Geneva Kent Elementary School. In August 2016, the Academy will move to its new home in the renovated former Beverly Hills Middle School. In August 2015, Huntington East Middle School formed a professional service contract with EL Education to begin implementing several of their major components.
Expeditionary Learning Schools are models of comprehensive school reform based on the educational ideas of German educator Kurt Hahn, the founder of Outward Bound. There are more than 150 Expeditionary Learning Schools in 30 US states and the District of Columbia. They are exemplified by project-based learning expeditions, where students engage in interdisciplinary, in-depth study of compelling topics, in groups and in their community, with assessment coming through cumulative products, public presentations, and portfolios. According to the ELS Web site students undertake tasks requiring perseverance, fitness, craftsmanship, imagination, self-discipline, and significant achievement.