Sonora Elementary School Receives School of Innovation Designation

Sonora Elementary School received designation as an Arkansas School of Innovation June 6, continuing the school’s drive toward establishing innovative practices to help all school students excel.

“Completing the designation phase is a rigorous process that Sonora Elementary staff and multiple stakeholders worked together to achieve,” said Marsha Hash, school of innovation liaison with the Office of Innovation for Education at the University of Arkansas. “Collaborating with Sonora Elementary with their mindset of transforming to achieve better student outcomes has been an honor.”

The school of innovation model was introduced with the passage of Act 601 of 2013, according to the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education website.

The model allows schools to receive waivers from the Arkansas Department of Education to develop methods that may differ from standard regulations or practices to meet the specific needs of students, according the office. The Office of Innovation for Education likewise supports schools to examine instructional and administrative practices to further develop ideas and opportunities for innovation.

Sonora created and is in year four of a six-year strategic action plan to guide the school of innovation process, said Regina Stewman, Sonora Elementary’s principal.

The School Board approved Sonora’s request to become a school of innovation in March of 2021, she said. The school subsequently established a School of Innovation Council of parents, staff and students to help guide the process.

Sonora's staff voted to proceed with becoming a school of innovation that April, with more than 97% of staff voting in support of endeavor, Stewman said. According to the Office of Innovation and Education, 60% of the staff had to support seeking the designation for the process to proceed.

Schools interested in becoming a School of Innovation must submit an Intent to Apply Form to the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is followed by a required technical assistance meeting to review the application process and requirements in the law, according to the DESE website. Technical assistance continues throughout the application process with on-site support and training by the Office of Innovation for Education. The final application is reviewed by a team of educators and submitted to the Arkansas Secretary of Education.

Stewman said Sonora's plan toward becoming a school of innovation had three goals:

• Students would make or exceed one year's growth in literacy through partnerships, job-embedded professional development and increasing student agency through goal setting.

• Increase student agency by creating a building and classroom environment that fosters independent learners who own their learning.

• Transform Sonora's culture and climate through a trauma-informed SEL approach to foster students’ social-emotional development toward transformative teaching and learning.

The trauma-informed SEL approach calls for creating reliable learning environments for students who have experienced adversities and trauma, according to the Transforming Education website.

“During this time, we have created systems and monitored progress through data collection,” she said of goal implementation.

Sonora Elementary will go through an Arkansas School of Innovation renewal process every four years, during which staff will consider how well they've achieved innovative objectives and to set new goals, Stewman said.