Innovation Zones Are Key to Transforming West Virginia Schools

October 15, 2009

By Priscilla Haden
West Virginia Board of Education President

President Barack Obama has called education one of the three building blocks of innovation. I’m proud that in West Virginia we too have recognized the importance of innovation in our schools and taken steps to encourage enterprising approaches to improve student achievement.

Already, we have taken steps to incorporate 21st century learning into the classroom with the addition of world-class rigor to core subjects. These improvements alignstate standards with national standards and help schools move beyond outdated teacher-centered models to student-centered learning. The focus now is on core curriculum, such as science and math, as well as performance skills, including critical thinking, problem solving and creativity. We call it Global21: Students deserve it. The world demands it. Innovation zones will allow schools to more readily implement all the components of Global21.

In addition, West Virginia has adopted legislation that allows for the creation of Innovation Zones in our public schools. Gov. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Legislature, state Superintendent Steve Paine, my fellow members on the West Virginia Board of Education and I have worked together with teacher representatives and other stakeholders to take this important step to improve student achievement.

The School Innovations Zones Act gives the state board and the Department of Education the ability to waive certain state laws, rules and policies to give teachers and principals greater local control over the curriculum, schedule and staffing in their schools. Schools that become Innovation Zones essentially become learning laboratories with the flexibility to try new, research-based teaching methods. The approach can vary, from changes in a discipline involving all math teachers in a county, for example, or it could be more widespread, such as altering the structure of the school day. Whatever the approach, the changes would require approval from 80 percent of staff members affected. The more elaborate the change, the more people who would need to sign on.

Schools hoping to become pilot Innovation Zone sites will soon be able to share their ideas for change. Applications to become West Virginia Innovation Zones are being accepted from educators and others who share a vision of how to better prepare students for learning and living in a global society. Those accepted will receive not only additional funding but also technical help to implement their innovative ideas. The West Virginia Department of Education plans to conduct a series of informational meetings about Innovation Zones across the state in October.

Representatives from schools or groups of schools are invited to attend, including teachers, principals, business and community leaders, parents, central office staff, higher education representatives and others are welcome to attend. Two, two-hour sessions will be held in each location, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Sessions are scheduled for Oct. 13, Stonewall Resort, Roanoke; Oct. 14, Tamarack, Beckley; Oct. 15, The Clay Center, Charleston; Oct. 16, Bavarian Inn, Shepherdstown; and Oct. 20, I-79 Technology Park Research Center, Fairmont. Anyone interested in attending can register online at

As a former teacher, it is invigorating to have witnessed West Virginia’s educational system evolve from the days of a tiny one-room school house to the technological advanced classrooms of today. It is my hope that schools and county school systems statewide will seize this current opportunity to become Innovation Zones. To do so will help transform the delivery of public education and improve student achievement statewide.

Priscilla Haden, a resident of Kanawha County, is president of the West Virginia Board of Education.