When the Gresham-Barlow (OR) School District (GBSD) hired Dr. A. Katrise Perera as the superintendent in July of 2017, she set out to listen and learn from students, parents, staff, and community members how to best serve our students. Her charge to me was to do the same when she brought me on last summer as executive director of innovation and partnerships. Well aware that initiative overload is common in education, I didn’t rush to implement new programs. Rather, my focus has been to identify the innovative programs and initiatives already underway that I could support, expand, and help replicate at other schools. Moreover, I have been mindful that innovation often takes root when there are considerable resources available.

However, innovative learning experiences ought not be exclusive; they should be widely available, highly engaging, and designed to prepare all students for our rapidly evolving global economy. Under the leadership of Dr. Perera and the GBSD Board, and in collaboration with Career Technical Education Coordinator Sarah Dorn, here are seven ways we’re working to drive district-wide innovation in Gresham-Barlow.

How to drive innovation

1. Engage multiple stakeholders

We make a concerted effort to listen to and engage multiple stakeholders including principals, teachers, parents, students, and school board members, as well as the local Chamber of Commerce, city and business leaders, and professional organizations on what types of educational experiences we should offer our students and which qualities employers are looking for in our future workforce.

Related: 3 ways technology & innovation are transforming classrooms

Resoundingly, they’ve asked that students develop competencies such as problem solving, perseverance, strong communication skills, creativity, and ingenuity. These conversations also helped inform our bond-funded construction currently underway to ensure that the schools we’re building and renovating will include physical spaces that allow for different types of learning and the development of future-ready skills.

2. Develop pathways

7 ways to drive district-wide innovation

Our partnership with community stakeholders has also helped guide our effort to develop pathways in each of six career clusters that start in elementary and extend through middle and high school to ensure students graduate college- and career-ready. The first pathway to launch is Construction, and due to our partnership with local industry, students are already participating in projects with real-world relevance across grade levels. For instance, a fourth-grade project to design benches will culminate in a pitchfest this month at which Portland-based Fortis Construction will select four student’s models to incorporate into the design of an outdoor space at one of our elementary schools. High school marketing students are collaborating with the Lease Crutcher Lewis Construction team to learn more about the construction business from a marketing perspective, and we are seeking industry partners to support a recently proposed project to have Career Technical Education students build sheds for the benefit of the community.

3. Develop a common framework

To promote effective communications, our district leadership team has developed a common framework to help all stakeholders share an understanding of our goals as well as the language we’re using to express them. This approach gives us the flexibility to iterate while we build innovative curriculum and experiences for all students. It has also helped facilitate widespread participation in the work underway to develop the district’s Portrait of a Graduate.

About the Author:

Carla Gay is executive director of innovation and partnerships at Gresham-Barlow School District in Oregon. Previously, she was an administrator, teacher, and school social worker focused on student engagement, dropout reengagement, and college and career readiness. Connect with Gay on Twitter @carlagay12 or via email at gay@gresham.k12.or.us.


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