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innovateNJ: Gaining Momentum

by Lisa Duty, Takecia Saylor on March 28 2016

The state of New Jersey has been quietly spurring a wave of innovation that is gathering force and speed. The wave is engaging schools and districts, collaborators across the nation, and community partners close to home. The initiative - innovateNJ - is creating a corps of innovators who push, from each of their different roles and perspectives, for more personalized, blended, and effective student learning experiences. Formed in March 2014, the New Jersey Department of Education’s (NJDOE) Office of School Innovation just announced its third cohort of community members.

innovateNJ’s guiding principle in supporting this work is that innovation occurs best not through top-down mandates, but by bringing together like-minded educators and administrators in an environment of openness and collaboration and providing them with the resources and support they need to explore, implement, and scale next generation models of teaching and learning. The most significant component of membership, which seeks to directly impact equity and access progress, is the requirement that all community members partner with a school district that represents a student demographic 180 degrees different from their own.

Over the last seven months, NJDOE’s Office of School Innovation and The Learning Accelerator have worked together to advance the quality of personalized and blended learning statewide with the goal of sharing the impact of innovateNJ’s work nationwide over time. innovateNJ is an important and prescient approach to how an SEA can catalyze innovation by focusing resources (time and money) on innovation, and helping cultivate and nurture an ecosystem to improve student outcomes within an innovative culture. Below is a brief introduction to the innovateNJ landscape, worthy of further exploration:

The Office of School Innovation is aligning resources to its priorities, providing opportunities for districts who seek to jump-start or develop innovation efforts. This is largely accomplished via the emphasis placed on opportunities to collaborate across divisional offices within the New Jersey Department of Education.

  • Blended Early Learning Innovation Pilot - Interdivisional collaboration between the Office of School Innovation and the Office of Early Childhood, designed to provide early learners with innovative blended learning opportunities.
  • Summer Blended & Personalized Learning Grant - Interdivisional partnership between the Office of School Innovation and the Title I Office, designed to provide enriched summer blended and personalized instructional experiences for students in grades 3 through 9.

The Office of School Innovation also creates ongoing opportunities for early adopters to get support in creating new models, and meeting other innovators.

  • Qualified Innovation Partners were first derived per the state's issuance of a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) in the spring of 2013. Having met the requirements necessary to be considered, various partner-organizations offer viable approaches to assisting school districts in their efforts to implement and sustain innovative instructional programs. The NJDOE encourages school districts to develop an organization-vetting structure which helps identify partnership organizations that can meet a district’s need for quality, seamless integration, and sustainability. Potential innovation partners are not limited to this list.
  • Blended Learning Leaders. The Office of School Innovation has developed an initiative with the Friday Institute’s Blended Learning Leaders Program. The initiative will provide professional development around blended models for school leaders as a means of increasing the confidence of leaders as evaluators, and teachers as facilitators, of blended learning.
  • The 2015 innovateNJ Possibilities Tour: Southern Hub took place in Voorhees Township School District on November 20th allowing more rural LEAs to experience firsthand the opportunities the innovateNJ community has to offer schools in New Jersey’s Southern districts.
  • EdSurge Tri-state Summit 2016 (first hosted in 2014) brought together teachers, leaders, and entrepreneurs across boundaries to advance innovation. The event was hosted with the Bergen County Superintendents Association and innovateNJ.
  • Twitter chats (follow #innovateNJ) are an opportunity for educators to learn together, support one another, and have their voices heard. innovateNJ hosts bi-weekly chats where topics range from how to get started implementing innovative practices, to personalized and blended learning, to designing learning spaces and makerspaces.

Membership in innovateNJ is voluntary and is open to all districts across the state who demonstrate a commitment to innovation. Districts can apply here for membership. Innovation in education is imperative if we are to continuously improve the learning experience and outcomes for students, as well as keep pace with an ever-changing world to ensure that students are prepared for the future.


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About the Author

Lisa Duty is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator and an advisor to the global education sector. Follow Lisa on twitter @LisaDuty1.

Takecia Saylor currently serves as the award-winning Director of the New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of School Innovation.