Highlands Elementary joins Renton Innovation Zone
April 17, 2018—Teachers and staff at Highlands Elementary School are working to improve classroom instruction, school climate, and staff collaboration through the district’s Renton Innovation Zone (RIZ) initiative. RIZ is an extension of the West Hill Now! initiative started last school year at Bryn Mawr, Campbell Hill and Lakeridge elementary schools. Renton Innovation Zone improvement strategies support educators in increasing student engagement, designing instruction that is based on conceptual understanding, and building classroom and school communities that support all learners in meeting standard.
Core Principles for Student Success
Before the start of this school year, district staff worked with Highlands Elementary teachers and support staff to come together as a team to create a school plan to increase student achievement. During their first year in the RIZ, Highlands staff have worked collaboratively to implement these plans and strategies and to carefully monitor the impact on student engagement and learning outcomes. The core principles of the Renton Innovation Zone initiative (as well as those that guide the West Hill Now! initiative) include:
- Collaboration focused on student learning
- Use of Data and Best Practices
- Embedded Professional Development
- Principal's Role as Instructional Leader
- Operational Flexibility
- Building Culture
- Community and Family Engagement
At Highlands the 2017-18 school year began in August with three extra days of staff training that included learning together about new mathematical instructional practices and strategies to increase students’ social emotional readiness to learn. To support continuous improvement all classroom teachers also participated in an additional four full days of training called Math Labs, which are facilitated by a Math Coach and attended by one grade-level teaching team and the principal who learns alongside teachers. During a Math Lab teachers learn new content and instructional strategies and go into classrooms and practice teaching them to students so that they develop a common vision and expectation of what effectively supports learning and how their team can work together to adjust instruction to ensure all students are engaged. Teachers then meet every week specifically to collaborate about math instruction. To support this effort to continuously improve instruction, the district provides substitutes for their Math Lab days as well as additional staffing to support this improvement model. And while this work started in Math, the Highlands staff is already planning to expand this to include Literacy professional learning next year.
Effective instruction is critical, but creating a classroom and school community in which children feel safe in taking academic risks and a true sense of belonging is equally essential. The staff at Highlands has engaged in extensive professional learning about how the brain develops and how to help students develop important skills like how to self-regulate and solve conflicts. Their goal is to build community rather than compliance so that students develop a sense of agency and see themselves as sense-makers. The district is supporting this effort by funding a partnership with Sound Discipline and providing additional staffing to support social emotional interventions intended to assist students in staying in the classroom so they don’t miss instruction.
As with all of the schools in the RIZ, in order to engage in improvement efforts of this scale and at this rate, the staff at Highlands, the school district and the Renton Education Association collaborated to support the Highlands RIZ plan. Based the shared goals, the district was able to fund all of the staff’s requests for additional staffing and supports. These included creating a new school based and district level positions. For example, a Family and Community Engagement Coordinator was hired solely to support the four schools in the RIZ in their efforts to increase meaningful family and community partnerships.
The Renton Innovation Zone inititave will expand again next year to include Sartori Elementary School as that school opens this fall.