This innovative district lets students choose how to learn

Peer-led classrooms. In these classrooms, the teacher is a facilitator, and the students act as instructors. Students who have mastered the content first help other students learn the content. “Some students learn better from their peers than from a teacher,” Higdon explained.

Taylor County also has a program called STARS, which stands for Students Teaching and Reaching Students. Students can apply to become a STARS mentor, and about 250 students have done this.

“These STARS students are placed with an elementary teacher and act as an instructor under the official certified teacher,” he said. “Approximately 40 per period are bused to our elementary and middle schools, and some of those have decided they want to become teachers some day—so it’s perfect training for them, but it also gives another set of eyes and hands to the elementary teachers.”

Self-paced classrooms. Here, teachers record their lessons, and students are able to watch these videos either during school or outside of school, as often as they need to learn the material. “The teacher facilitates and works out problems during the class time with students,” Higdon said.

Cardinal Academy. In this new program, launched just this year, students develop their own learning plan and schedule under the guidance of an academic adviser. They decide for themselves what subjects they will work on, when, and for how long. They can also learn off campus through internships if they want.

“The students are in control of what they do each day,” Higdon said. “There is a rigorous application process they need to go through to participate, and they have to be considered ‘proficient’ or ‘distinguished’ under the state’s accountability system to apply. The students love this approach, because they feel empowered.”

Enabling Taylor County’s unique approach is a one-to-one computing program in which all students in grades three and up have access to iPads or Lenovo laptops. But giving students a choice in how they will learn poses some logistical challenges for the district.

“We’ve been doing this for six years now,” Higdon said of his personalized approach. “When we first started in year one, it wasn’t as smooth a system throughout the district as it is now. We had a lot more challenges at the beginning then we do now.”

Taylor County administrators and guidance counselors collaborate with support staff to develop a master schedule.

“We take the students’ needs and preferences into consideration when we build the plan, and then we create a master schedule around these,” he said. “The process has evolved over the last few years, and everyone now accepts it.”

The former Editor in Chief of eSchool News, Dennis Pierce is now a freelance writer covering education and technology. He has been following the ed-tech space for more than 17 years. Dennis can be reached at

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at