By Robyn Bagley

This May I had a personal tour of the future of education. I toured Innovations High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. I left supercharged by the potential and, honestly, a little bewildered that a traditional school district had actually created this blended learning marvel I witnessed. I was so excited by what I saw that I was eager to share the details with my comrades in the Digital Learning movement. Here’s my overview of what I believe makes this school a prototype for the future.

Innovations High appears to be the first of it’s kind in the nation. This new state-of-the-art Digital Learning facility allows maximum customization for every type of learner. Designed to facilitate premier blended learning, Innovations High can accommodate complete flexibility to best meet the academic goals of each individual student. It is a game changer – a paradigm shift that turns the word school into a verb (yes, I stole that from a recent Getting Smart blog because it fits), a compilation of learning services, if you will, shifting the focus away from systems and directly onto the student.

What’s most exciting about this school? The variation of customization that will walk in and out of it’s doors. Partnered with the Salt Lake Community College campus and the Salt Lake District’s Career and Technical Education Center, a seamless transition between K-12 and Higher Ed becomes a viable option for any student attending Innovations High. Whether a student desires full-time online from home, full-time online in a bricks and mortar, blended learning between college, CTE, or bricks and mortar, the sky is the limit for customization. Within the district, the funding will follow the student to the various district options they choose.

Innovations High demonstrates how technology can bring about maximum efficiencies, especially in cost and funding. The facility is open year round with extended daily hours. It is equipped with labs, technology and classrooms designed for collaboration and “individualized” vs. “herd” learning. It is shared with the Higher Ed facility and vice versa. A place where the best of both worlds is intertwined into a full-service learning experience. A place where college and careers becomes an absolute partnership with high school. A place where competency will rule the amount of time spent on a course and seat time becomes a voluntary action used as a method for collaboration or desired face-to-face interaction with an instructor. A place where students are empowered and parents and teachers are liberated with real-time data about performance and progress. A place where students have control over time, place, path and pace.

This urban school is designed to meet the needs of a wide variation of learners. The district has a rich mix of demographics that includes a high number of at-risk students whose needs are not being met by traditional bricks and mortar. The promise of Digital Learning is to provide access to the best courses and the best teachers regardless of zip code. Innovations High takes it a step further by providing the most at-risk students with access to career paths and post-secondary education. To be clear, though, this school is open and available to every type of student.

As my friend, Tom Vander Ark recently shared at a Digital Learning Summit, “It’s not like the shift to Digital Learning is optional, it’s not a reform, it’s a phase change.”

Kudos to Utah’s Salt Lake District and specifically, Director of CTE and Secondary School Support, Principal Ken Grover whose vision and leadership has turned this 21st century model for education into an exciting reality. A reality that may serve as a life changer for many students who otherwise would stagnate, languish or possibly fail in the current system. Innovations High is the future.


Robyn Bagley is Board Chair of Parents for Choice in Education, a founding board member of Open High School of Utah and author of Utah’s premier digital learning policy, the Statewide Online Education Program.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Innovations was a disaster for my child and the entire year of 9th grade was a failed experiment. I have advocated my child redoes 9th grade starting at another school with more structure and an arts foundation, but the Salt Lake school administrators insist upon pushing my child up to the next grade. This would create a continuation of struggling to keep up. They insist my child can work during the vacation and peripherally through the school year to catch up. I refuse to accept this rush act. There is no reason a vacation or peripheral time should be taken from a child when retention could best serve the situation. In addition my child is on the border of 8th and 9th grade for this school year in every other state’s entrance into high school. Entrance into 9th grade was no problem in any other school. Salt Lake is actually going to make us move in order to be properly served. Wondering sadly if the Salt Lake isn’t filled with the tears of students and parents pushed through it’s experiements. This is not serving our families. The number crunching (the age cut-off dates) and the amount of kids moving through the system has everything to do with educating in this school district. Don’t think for a moment Innovations was created as something any more innovative than to take the edge off this disaster. In it’s birthing phase it has not taken the edge off, rather it pushes the kids over the edge.

    High school can be a time to elevate the experience of education. Pushing a kid into the possibility of retention when it should be more wisely anticipated to just hold back and give the kid breathing room would be the wisest choice. But wisdom isn’t built into the calculation. Unfortunately, parents, you will have to fend for your child in the sink or swim, unforgiving, ice-cold current of this school system who won’t support you when you find Innovations has failed you.

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