Teacher-led Innovation in Highline Public Schools

By Susan Enfield, superintendent, Highline Public Schools, Wash.

Highline Public Schools is a richly diverse school district located just south of Seattle that serves  over 20,000 students. Our promise to families, students and community is that every student is known by name, strength and need and graduates prepared for college and career success. To deliver on this promise, in 2013 the district adopted a bold, four-year strategic plan that commits to at least 19 out of 20 students being proficient in core subjects by third grade, passing Algebra by ninth grade and graduating bilingual, biliterate and tech-savvy, tech-literate. Recognizing that innovation flourishes when it is supported at the classroom level, to achieve our tech-savvy, tech-literate goal we have intentionally and strategically invested in our teachers and principals as lead innovators in personalized learning. For Highline, personalized learning is central to our commitment to equity as it ensures all students have access to appropriate technology and high quality instruction. Our personalized learning vision encompasses: 

  • Cultivating strong relationships through valuing and amplifying the voices and experiences of all learners; 

  • Developing personalized, standards-based goals based on learner’s strengths, needs, language, culture, and aspirations; 

  • Collaborating in authentic and rigorous problem-solving experiences; 

  • Strengthening student-driven academic discourse with peers, experts, and community members for learners to build skills, develop understanding, and make connections between ideas; 

  • Selecting tools purposefully for learners to explore ideas, to develop skills and knowledge, to design solutions to problems, and to create artifacts that demonstrate their learning; 

  • Creating personalized learning paths, where learners use self-assessment and formative feedback to monitor growth, reflect on their learning, and challenge themselves to reach more rigorous goals. 

One of our best examples of this vision in action is happening at Chinook Middle School where over 40  languages are spoken and nearly 80 percent of students rely on school for breakfast and lunch. Teacher Librarian Kim Meschter, an extraordinary, entrepreneurial educator who has enthusiastically embraced the Makerspace movement, last year began transforming  her traditional library into a learning studio where students explore and create independently and alongside teachers and peers. While Chinook does provide a Chromebook to every student thanks to a generous donation from Boeing, the school is not abundant with resources. Kim initially transformed her library space by utilizing whatever tools were available, from computers to twist ties, and constantly sought out additional resources through DonorsChoose and appeals to staff across the district. This year, however, is a different story. As a member of the Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools, Highline was selected to be an advanced Learning Studio as part of HP and Microsoft’s Reinvent the Classroom initiative.  

As a result, Chinook’s former library is now a “cybrary” outfitted with tools including a 3-D printer, HP Sprout, green-screen videography, Raspberry PI computers, diode circuitry, and much more allowing students to take their ideas and turn them into projects tied to their own interests. Students are already planning their projects for this year and are eager to begin using this space and these tools to turn their ideas into reality.  

Thanks to innovative educators like Kim, and the digital technology and resources we now have, Highline students’ learning extends far beyond the walls and confines of the school building. They are encouraged to use their imagination, pursue interests that intrigue them and in doing so build their self-confidence as learners and innovators themselves.