With a generous three-year grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, The Innovation Project (TIP) and its partners have developed and supported an inter-district network focused on redesigning learning environments to better address the early learning needs of vulnerable children. In its first two years, the Early Learning Network (ELN) engaged school design teams and principals from 36 schools in 12 North Carolina districts.
The ELN immersed participating schools and districts in a cohort-based program defined by three interrelated activities that together enable transformative results:
- Transformation through School Design. School design teams participated in an intensive process to define learner-centered goals and strategies to improve early learning outcomes. Schools did not implement a specific model but instead engaged in a common process to design for transformation of the student experience in grades Pre-K-3.
- Coaching for Entrepreneurial School Leadership. TIP recruited a cadre of exceptional coaches with proven records of school turnaround leadership and education innovation. These coaches supported principals in extending their skill sets to meet the challenges of leading through innovation in struggling schools, and to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the ELN.
- Innovative District Supports. TIP worked closely with superintendents and district leaders in innovation, curriculum and instruction, student supports, finance, human resources, and other areas, to support them in structuring district policies and practices to better empower school leaders and school design teams to engage fully in the ELN’s design process.
Due to COVID-19, TIP delayed plans for a third cohort in 2020-21. After conferring with principals and district leaders, we determined we would be unable to run a sufficiently rigorous cohort program for school teams commencing at any point during the 2020-21 school year. For that reason, we shifted our focus to designing an alternative plan to build on the first two cohorts’ experiences by supporting participating district teams in responding to the pandemic through the same three interventions: transformation through design; coaching for entrepreneurial leadership; and district supports.