2019 Regional Collaboration Award: Shoals, Mitchell and Orleans Schools

This spring, ROI proudly recognized organizations for innovations to improve education, economic development, and quality of place in the Indiana Uplands. In a series of stories over the next few weeks, we’ll feature the winners of six Regional Innovation Awards. Their work showcases conceptual shifts, creative strategies, and commitment to action that we hope will inspire others in the region.

The Collaboration of Shoals, Mitchell and Orleans Schools (COSMOS) is taking a regional approach to improve student learning opportunities

Members of the COSMOS advisory teams participating in the Ready Schools Ideation Phase.

In regionalism, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. In the example of COSMOS—the Collaboration of Shoals, Mitchell, and Orleans Schools—investing in a regional approach to education reaps compounding rewards in student learning. Collaboration gives these small school districts the edge they need to stretch limited resources in surprisingly powerful ways—and give students access to valuable new opportunities.

Several years ago, Candace Roush, Superintendent of Shoals Community Schools in Martin County, reached out to Gary McClintic, Superintendent of Orleans Community Schools in Orange County, and he brought in Steve Phillips, then-Superintendent of Mitchell Community Schools in Lawrence County to begin discussing how they might collaborate. When Phillips retired in December of 2018, this cross-country collaboration continued with new superintendent Mike Wilcox. “We all feel like the smaller system in our counties,” Superintendent Roush explained. “We’re three different counties, but we have a lot in common. There’s no competitiveness. It’s just a really good partnership.”

The three superintendents explored a bold idea: what if, despite being not only in different school systems, but in different counties, they applied for an ROI Ready Schools Planning Grant together? Their goal is to reshape how they educate students: to better prepare them for a more successful future, to provide regional businesses and industries with better qualified and prepared employees, and to make it possible for more young people to stay in the region. “We’re trying to see how our corporations can come together and provide more courses for our kids,” Superintendent Roush said, “especially in the high school level, where you have different graduation pathways. We’re hoping we can provide our kids more options that they wouldn’t just get at one individual school.”

COSMOS brought together teams of educators, business owners, community and regional industry leaders to design a unified approach to providing a more relevant, up-to-date, and effective educational experience for all students. Having gone through an extensive discovery phase, this summer COSMOS will apply for an implementation grant from ROI.

Orleans Elementary students working with VEX robotics kits.

The response from teachers? Excitement, according to Superintendent Roush. “This is a big opportunity. It’s one of the first in the state, maybe one of the first in the nation, where three different counties come together like this, and I think just knowing that they’re part of that groundbreaking project is exciting to them.” Students are also on the design team, and while they didn’t know what to expect, after visiting schools around the nation and seeing models of new kinds of learning experiences, they’re getting excited, too.

Mitchell Elementary 2nd graders investigating soil erosion on their playground as part of a project-based learning activity.

What will the new learning experience look like for COSMOS schools? According to Roush, “We’re in that [logistics] process right now, but I think what I’d like to see is our staff doing more stuff together across the three districts. We’re doing professional development together, and we’re collaborating, sharing lessons together. We’re doing more STEM-related projects together. We share summer camps. Especially at the high school level, we’re looking at implementing something called the academies model, where students pick an academy that relates to a graduation pathway. If they can’t get the pathway they want at my school, then they could go to one of the other two schools and get it there. It’s going to be really neat to see. One of the big things we’re looking at is virtual classrooms so that if the student couldn’t drive to that other school that they could Skype in or watch the class virtually.”

Shoals Construction Trades class building a sidewalk around their playground.

COSMOS, Roush added, is “really thankful for ROI and the opportunity. They’ve been with us every single step of the way from before we applied. It’s been wonderful to work with them.” For ROI, the reward lies in seeing new world of opportunities open up for Uplands students.

Left to right: Chair of the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet Danny Lopez, Candace Roush, Superintendent of Shoals Community Schools, Gary McClintic, Superintendent of Orleans Community Schools, and ROI President and CEO Tina Peterson.

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