Valley New School: Putting Innovation into Action

Valley New School (VNS) of the Appleton, Wisconsin Area School District defines its mission as “A learning community that empowers individuals to become purposeful adults.” I love it!

VNS is an instrumentality charter school that enjoys great autonomy from the school district. They celebrated their 10th year of innovative education in 2012-13. It is a project-based school for 68 students in grades 7-12.

School leaders Jen Plamann and Nicole Luedtke led a session at the recent Innovative Schools Network (ISN) conference to help others on similar education journeys. The VNS philosophy tells a great deal of the story:

  • Learning how to learn is more important than memorizing a particular set of facts. (Amen!)
  • Belongingness and empowerment lead to engagement in school, and in turn, achievement.
  • Each individual is unique and, therefore, warrants an individualized education.

The first bullet particularly resonates with me. Years ago, I did well in high school and college because I could memorize well. I was admitted to Duke Law School, a nationally-ranked law school. But when I got to Duke, I realized that memorization didn’t serve me well at all. I wasn’t very good at problem-solving. It was a difficult first year in law school for me as I had to teach myself the fundamentals of logic and problem-solving. Now I look back and realize that first year was critical for my personal growth. It helped me become the strategic thinker I am today. Shouldn’t all students be taught these fundamentals?

Aligned with their philosophy, VNS employs a project-based learning curriculum, which is student-led. Students propose and implement independent studies on topics of interest, conduct in-depth research, create high-quality products, and present and defend their learning.

Check Thursday’s blogpost for 21 suggested action steps for innovation from these successful VNS leaders, from Low to High Impact and from Low to High Difficulty. Some may surprise you.