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Pinellas schools receive $500,000 grant
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Pinellas County Schools announced today that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded the district a $500,000 grant for the next phase of a plan to establish an innovative educational model for personalized learning in Pinellas County Schools.

The new model, called Pinellas Innovates: Pathways to Personalized Learning, is designed to prepare more students for success after high school.

Starting with the 2015-16 school year, the district will open one new school in partnership with the New Tech Network dedicated to the personalized learning model. The same year, several existing high schools will institute the personalized learning plan for select students. In January 2015, in Phase 3 of the initiative, Pinellas County Schools will receive $2.5 million in funding to implement personalized learning.

Through a 15-year process, this innovative model is expected to expand to all schools in Pinellas County.

“We view this as transformational for education in Pinellas County,” said Michael Grego in a press release. Grego is superintendent of Pinellas County Schools. “This new model creates a system where each student is empowered to design a school experience that best meets their needs and goals. This is already happening for some students. We want it to happen for all.”

Personalized learning can include:

• Integrated project-based learning that takes into consideration cultural perspectives and post-secondary aspirations to help students relate to the work they do

• Flexible schedules and course time requirements so students can advance sooner based on subject mastery and not on a prescribed semester schedule

• Student, parent and teacher input on curriculum that best meets student needs and goals

• Monitoring of students to help them and their parents navigate and design their learning experience

• Enhanced technology resources that help students meet their learning goals

Each part of the personalized learning plan is aligned to the district’s Strategic Plan, and implementation will involve collaboration from stakeholders including teachers, administrators, parents and community leaders. The district plans to launch personalized learning programs in at least four of the district’s traditional high schools identified through a rigorous selection process.

Several high schools have been selected for this opportunity. Clearwater, Lakewood, Northeast and Pinellas Park high schools have been have been selected to create plans for personalized learning programs in their schools. Seminole High School has also been selected for this opportunity in partnership with the Career Academies of Seminole.

“The plan is designed to encourage autonomy within the schools that launch personalized learning,” said Rita Vasquez, executive director of high school education. “We want school leaders and teachers empowered to create a system that is personalized for the needs of students at that school.”

After receiving a $64,518 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Next Gen Systems Initiative grant for the first phase of implementation, the district was able to design a comprehensive personalized learning strategic plan.

The Phase 1 grant provided the district with a number of resources, including a full-time project manager, a district-chosen planning partner with experience in launching personalized learning schools (New Tech Network), a visit to a New Tech Network school, extensive technical assistance from consultants, personalized learning resources provided on the Next Gen Systems Portal and potential for individual school planning and launch funding in future grant phases.

Funds received for Phase 2 will be a significant catalyst for the next steps. The district seeks to accelerate progress toward personalized learning experiences for all students by:

• Opening a stand-alone “incubator” high school in partnership with the New Tech Network

• Launching personalized learning programs within in at least four of the district’s 16 traditional high schools with a rigorous selection process

• Utilizing an interactive learning management system that will tap into current technologies and allow for students, parents and teachers to navigate pathways toward graduation, college acceptance and beyond

• Removing state and local barriers in order to award credit based on demonstrated mastery not tied to or dependent on seat time

As a result of this initiative, Pinellas County Schools will:

• Increase the percentage of students that graduate college and career ready to at least 80% by 2020 as measured by ACT and SAT scores

• Ensure that personalization will become the dominant pedagogy used in district classrooms by 2020

• Create and implement personalized learning programs within existing schools beginning with 1 percent of the student population in 2015 and growing to a minimum of 25 percent by 2020.
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