Your District Needs an Innovation Pathway

Innovation Pathway

By: Rebecca Midles and Greg Gazanian

Do you have educators in your system that are ready to make some innovative changes and need some runway? Having an innovation grant can help. As Pam Moran has shared it is important to find ways to say yes to innovation.

The Arcadia Unified grant and venture fund program provides an adaptive process of support and exploration for teachers and staff who are experimenting with new ideas and are in need of funding, resources, or other insights.

Greg Gazanian, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer at Arcadia Unified shares that they wanted the fund to be different and not just a ‘submit an application and wait’ process. The process would need to be streamlined. The idea of this structure came from Greg observing an ASU/GSV Summit conversation between a venture funder and an educational innovator.

The Arcadia Unified Strategy and Innovation Department first budgeted for innovation grants during the 17/18 school year. The program has expanded each year since then. Hundreds of grants have been offered with even more requests for general support fulfilled. COVID-19 has offered an opportunity to provide even greater support to our teachers and staff.

Greg advised a need to focus on outcomes more than how you or the district looks, “You have to have humility in this work.” He also shared that the first value of Arcadia Unified is to be collaborative and invites you to connect with him for more information. Email: [email protected]

Example Projects

Arcadia Unified Lab School

In an effort to explore maximizing voice, choice, and agency for students in a unique environment, Arcadia Unified funded the launch of a middle school “lab school”. The lab school consists of a custom environment in which students can focus on alternative approaches to learning. The grant funded the creation of the classroom space as well as supplies.

Quick Translation Services

We learned that office staff would often need to call in outside help for translation services. We funded the purchase of Google Nest Hub devices that can translate many languages automatically with no ongoing costs.

Math Camp and Exploration

After a math teacher expressed an interest in creating a highly fun, creative, and collaborative space in which students can learn and explore math, Arcadia Unified worked with her to fund a new innovative space for learning.

Elementary Wellness Center

We were approached by one of our elementary school counselors who were interested in building a wellness center for the school’s students. The center would offer a space for fun, reflection, and social and emotional learning. We offered a grant to cover furniture and other features for the room.

Key Features

  • The program is available to all Arcadia Unified staff.
  • The process for support can be started at any time.
  • There are no time limits or application windows.

According to Greg, the requests are often supported by research conducted by the Strategy and Innovation Team and the results of grants and ventures are shared with other stakeholders.

While the funding is an important component of the program, Arcadia Unified often receives requests for help in navigating organizational structures and/or barriers. The Strategy and Innovation department acts as a go-between and advocates on requests for permission and information on new initiatives or ideas.

There is no minimum or maximum grant amount. Each request is considered individually and seen as an opportunity to explore needs within the district. Oftentimes, the funding or support offered evolves beyond the initial request. Grants and ventures can range from funding for flexible furniture to the programming of custom apps for classroom support.

When selecting what to fund, scalability plays an important role, as does an equitable spread across the district. However, sometimes in the early stages of innovative concepts, it takes root in a school or with a team of teachers first but can then roll out to other parts of the district. The interests in this opportunity have also spread to departments across the system like food service and special services.

While we recognize that budgets are tight and challenging and prioritizing staffing is the most important focus, if there is space for community support or national sourcing, a small amount of funding could provide the start to long-term innovation using a model similar to Arcadia Unified’s blueprint.

Other Examples of District Innovation Funds

The following are a few examples of districts with an Innovation Fund and/or an Enrichment Fund.

  • JeffCo Public Schools in CO. Innovation Fund created by Jason Glass (podcast here) who is now Kentucky’s Ed Commissioner.
  • Westport Public Schools Innovation Fund in CT. Shared grant applications, process, guiding principles, and their Profile of a Contributing Citizen.
  • Bellevue Schools Foundation Enrichment Fund in WA. Grants supporting the community and teachers.
  • Humble ISD Education Foundation in TX. Offers Innovative Education Grants. Shared application, manual, FAQ, portal, and workshops.

For more, see:

Greg Gazanian is the Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for the Arcadia Unified School District in Arcadia, CA. He oversees organizational culture, strategic management, partnerships, research and the Innovation Grant and Venture Fund program.

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Rebecca Midles

Rebecca Midles is the Vice President of Learning Design at Getting Smart and is an innovator in competency education and personalized learning with over twenty years of experience as teacher, administrator, board member, consultant and parent.

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