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Corinth Elementary School is one of three schools in the Corinth School District, which has been labeled a “District of Innovation” by the state. Credit: Corinth School District

When the Corinth School District in north Mississippi was given the distinction of “District of Innovation” by the state last year, officials realized it was their chance to roll out unique initiatives they believed would truly impact student achievement. As Districts of Innovation, Corinth and two other districts in Mississippi can request exemptions from state regulations and more easily try out new systems and programs. Corinth’s educators zeroed in on a few areas they thought would make a difference: a new curriculum and assessment system, a modified calendar and additional diploma options.

Although there isn’t much data yet to show whether these initiatives are making an impact on student performance and achievement gaps, there have been some glimpses of success and Superintendent Lee Childress said he believes the district is on the right track. Here’s a look at what Corinth has done with its freedom to innovate:

Modified Calendar: Students in Corinth attend school from early August until mid-June, with several three-week-long breaks built in throughout the year for teachers to take a break from the normal academic schedule and run intensive remediation and intervention activities as well as enrichment programs. The goal of the new calendar, Childress said, is to create opportunities for “real-time intervention” rather than having a child fall behind and stay behind for an entire year. Under a normal school calendar, if a kindergarten student doesn’t know their colors, numbers or alphabet at the end of October, for example, “that child is going to get further and further behind,” Childress said. “Yet if we work with them with an intense intervention and intense remediation…we believe we can catch them up and allow them to begin to come closer to doing grade-level work.”

New curriculum and assessment system: The district has adopted the Cambridge International Examinations curriculum and assessments in high school, and students in kindergarten through 8th grade learn various standards from that curriculum in their classrooms.  Superintendent Childress said he believes that by adopting a rigorous curriculum for all students, the district may be able to shrink its achievement gap. “It’s not just your best and brightest that deserve the most rigorous curriculum, but all children,” Childress said. The major difference between state exams and Cambridge exams is students must complete many short answer, essay or performance tasks rather than a mix of multiple choice and short responses. (On biology exams, for example, students must complete a lab.)

More diploma options: The district is moving toward a “performance-based diploma” where Childress said children will be “recognized for what they [can] do rather than just completing ‘x’ number of years of school and ‘x’ number of credits.” One of those diplomas is the Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) Honors Diploma through the Cambridge program. So far, 15 students out of the 130-member senior class have earned that diploma. Students can also choose from an “early-exit diploma” at the end of 10th grade after meeting various standards, the district’s standard diploma, a college and career readiness diploma, a diploma for students with disabilities and a career technical diploma.

Childress says the community has been receptive to the changes, although some students and parents expressed “shock” as to the amount of reading and writing that is now required by the district’s new curriculum. Earlier this year, the state announced two new districts of innovation, one in Grenada and one that is a collaboration between Baldwyn and Booneville schools.

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Jackie Mader is multimedia editor. She has covered preK-12 education and teacher preparation nationwide, with a focus on the rural south. Her work has appeared in the The Denver Post, the Sun Herald and...

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