Shawnee Mission looking to shake up elementary practices with Innovative School model

Pam Lewis, left, and Kevin Hansford will serve as co-principals of the Apache IS. Photo via Jennifer Gill on Twitter.

Come next school year, days at Apache Elementary School will look quite a bit different than those at the average Shawnee Mission School District grade school.

Apache Elementary, near the intersection of 87th Street and I-35 in Shawnee, will serve as the home of the district’s new innovative school program. Photo via SMSD.

Students may spend a few hours in the morning studying traditional subjects like reading or math, and then switch in the afternoon to a team-based project that combines elements of the reading and math lessons they’d focused on earlier in the day. Students from different grades who share a passion for a particular subject — music, for example, or biology — might be brought together with a subject-matter expert for special instruction. Sixth graders will asked to apply for jobs in the school, having to submit a resume making the case for their employability. And all students will be encouraged at points to take advantage of a “genius hour,” a block of time set aside for them to pursue the subjects that most excite them.

The district this month is rolling out the plan for transitioning Apache from a traditional model to an “innovative school” model that will give teachers with more flexibility in scheduling, students a more personalized education experience, and the district a place to identify best practices to spread to the rest of its schools. The district is calling the new program Apache IS.

The idea for the innovative school model is based on the work of Dr. Willard Daggett, founder and president of the International Center for Leadership, who was brought to town to give a district-wide address last semester. Daggett’s work focuses on how schools can better prepare students for the modern workforce by involving businesses and parents in the classroom, better integrating technology into instruction, and teaching soft skills that aren’t usually a formal part of curricula.

Dr. Michelle Hubbard, Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Leadership, helped spearhead the effort to bring the innovative school model to the district based on direction from Superintendent Jim Hinson as well as her previous experience with a similar model for sixth graders in the Turner School District, where she previously served as superintendent.

Pam Lewis, Director of Elementary Services, and Kevin Hansford, Director of Elementary Title I and Early Childhood, will serve as co-principals of Apache IS, and say the model will serve as a training ground for advanced teachers and future principals. The idea, they say, is for staff serving at Apache to develop leadership skill that they will take to other schools throughout the district, helping transform the way elementary students are taught in Shawnee Mission over the coming years.

This week, all of the teaching and support staff positions for the school next year opened up for applications. Current Apache teachers interested in staying on for the transition to the innovative school model will have to reapply for their jobs, though some have already indicated to administrators that they would prefer to be reassigned to a traditional environment.