Innovation news from the Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation
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Welcome to the inaugural issue of “The Innovation Insider.” We are eager to share with you both the small and large scale innovation efforts taking place in the Forest Hills Public Schools. We are fortunate to have schools filled with talented and hard-working staff and students who are passionate about authentic education characterized by deep learning, curiosity, spontaneity, thinking, action, and joy! Furthermore, we would not be able to accomplish any of this without our transformational partner in the FHPS Foundation. Your support of the Foundation – our venture capital partner to support innovation – is making a difference in our schools and for children each day!
This is a profoundly exciting time in K-12 education as we continue to migrate away from a system designed to serve a 20th century economic model and fashion a system designed to equip all students with the building blocks to be life-long, self-directed learners. This publication mirrors this excitement and will not only communicate the innovations, research, and development taking place in our schools, but it will also invite you—community members, employers, parents, and families—to deepen your role in this investment in our collective future.
One of the constants of the success of the Forest Hills Public Schools over the years has been preserving the enduring fundamentals of a quality education while simultaneously challenging the status quo in the quest to evolve, innovate, and deliver education that fosters high engagement and deep learning. Too much of the recent narrative has overemphasized testing and short-term achievement at the expense of deep learning and thinking. In Forest Hills, we feel strongly that if we actively engage students in deep thinking and relevant learning, achievement and test scores take care of themselves.
Students have much to say about learning, achievement, and schools.  As Sara Armbruster and Andrew Kim write in their article “What is Innovation?” in this same publication, they speak about the design principle of “empathy for the user.” As children are perhaps the ultimate end “user” of K-12 education, what do they have to say about their schooling experience? Young children in the early elementary grades describe their experience in school as “exciting,” “fun,” and “interesting.” However, these feelings can wane as children progress in school. By the time high school rolls around, children often describe schooling in divergent ways: “boring,” “stressful,” and “tiring.” As a district collaborating with families, parents, employers, and students, we seek to create a school experience that is more needs-satisfying for “users” while simultaneously equipping students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that will benefit them and society for the rest of their lives. We know that the innovation process and prototyping small-scale models can help us identify new models that marry together the enduring fundamentals of a quality education with the needs-satisfying elements of sound design.
We are grateful and fortunate to live in a community that supports our schools and its children with the best of the human condition. We are blessed to be surrounded by people who solve problems with creativity and perseverance, who value and cultivate deep thinking, who lead with empathy and character, and serve and give selflessly. And we are deeply fortunate to have a steadfast partner in the FHPS Foundation to help transform innovative ideas into reality.  Working together, we can continue to innovate as a school system and community to provide our youth with both the evolving skills and timeless attributes that are the keys to a successful life.
Thank you for reading this inaugural issue of “The Innovation Insider.” We look forward to sharing more exciting news about innovation in your schools throughout the coming months and years! 
From our Chief Innovation Officer
by Judy Walton, chief innovation officer
Innovation in public education is, as they say, a horse of a different color. We are “producing” a public good that creates new value for society as whole, one child at a time. As the CIO in Forest Hills, my overarching goal is to be a good steward of people and ideas so that every single one of our students is prepared for life, meaningful work, and civic engagement. On a day-to-day basis, my focus is similar to what Sara Armbruster and Andrew Kim describe: culture, process, and outcome.

District leaders have a crucial role to play in school success and student learning. My stewardship begins with supporting the learning of our teachers, who have the most sustained contact with -- and greatest direct impact on -- our students. We are a talent-dependent organization, and I love this statement from Becoming a Learning System: “The greatest innovation for a school district’s future is for leaders to embrace and implement an authentic learning system” (Hirsch, Psencik, & Brown, 2014, p. 223). This means continuously involving our teachers in quality, job-embedded professional learning to increase their effectiveness and results for all students.

None of this happens as quickly as we would like, or in a vacuum, nor should it. We are not the type of organization that can afford to have a new product launch fail, chalk it up to bad luck, and recoup our losses on the next idea. Every one of our kids is unique, and as a group, too important for us to not be intentional and test our ideas out in small, low-risk ventures before scaling them up. As Richard Culatta from the U.S. Department of Education advises, we need to employ “thoughtful impatience.”

Central to our mission is partnering with all of the different internal and external stakeholders in our community. Over the course of this school year we will be reaching out through surveys, interviews, observations, and forums to discover your needs and insights. What do you – students, staff, parents, citizens, business, industry, and so on -- want and need from Forest Hills Public Schools? Using those insights, we will work to develop systems and processes that support teachers to make changes in practice that result in improved learning for all students.  We will work to remove artificial barriers, but still provide enough structure to be worthy guardians of that sacred public trust we hold for every single student in our district. In the end, when we embrace and implement permanent changes in our thinking, behaviors, and professional practices, we truly live our vision of all learners achieving individual potential.

By Sara Armbruster, VP, Strategy, Research, New Business Innovation, Steelcase Inc.
and Andrew Kim, Manager, Workspace Futures, Steelcase Inc.


With innovation such a hot topic in our schools and in the world, we thought it worth asking the question “what is innovation?” While the innovation we conduct at Steelcase might look quite different than innovation within your child’s classroom or within the district, the innovation principles on which our work rests apply equally well to the world of education.
Innovation is an outcome
Innovation is most often equated with a specific product. When you hear the word “innovation,” you probably think of objects such as the iPhone, Nest Thermostat, or GoPro camera. Innovative products combine great functionality with impressive design. Services or experiences can be innovative, too. The Khan Academy online education tool has transformed how students experience education in some districts. And innovation products or services - combined with a new business model - can challenge an established industry. Airbnb is changing the hotel industry, and the ridesharing service Uber is disrupting the taxi industry.
Innovation is a process
While these outputs might be the most visible aspect of innovation, they are the result of an innovation process that nurtured an idea into that product or service. In our experience, this process begins with curiosity and a desire to solve a need or problem. And the a-ha moment in innovation isn’t the moment when the solution becomes evident, but the moment when a meaningful unmet need becomes clear. According to the Harvard Business Review, the original version of Intuit’s Quicken personal finance software offered only one-third the features that many competing products had. Intuit’s product, however, was designed around a critical user insight: the average person finds using a spreadsheet intimidating. So instead of using a spreadsheet-based design (like other personal finance tools), Quicken’s interface showed the familiar images of a check register and an individual check. Because using Quicken was so intuitive, it immediately became the market leader in personal finance software and has remained the leader for more than three decades.
To identify a meaningful need, it is essential to develop empathy for the user. For us, this entails getting out of the office to understand first-hand the users’ issues through direct observations and interviews in their context. This deep user understanding helps us identify patterns and key insights, which eventually leads us to a product or service concept. The need for empathy doesn’t end once the idea for a solution is formed. A great innovation process includes prototyping the idea with real-world users and testing the idea with them. Then iterate, iterate, and iterate more until the idea is fully honed and perfectly shaped to solve the user’s need.
Innovation is a mindset and a culture
Even the best innovation process, however, is not enough to guarantee success. Perhaps the most important element of innovation is the culture that enables an organization to be innovative over and over and over. Innovation is a team process, one that is most effective when we collaborate with others. So an innovation culture is one that fosters sharing, makes openness to new ideas vital, and encourages building on others’ ideas. Innovation also requires commitment, so an optimistic attitude is critical. At the same time, it’s important to embrace failure and to learn from it, so commitment to innovation means a culture of failing faster to succeed sooner. Lastly, innovation is about curiosity. To nurture innovation, foster an environment where people ask big questions and then dig into those questions by observing, listening, and learning.
In the end, innovation is not a singular thing but the integration of culture, process, and outcome. While the outcome is the thing we see in the end, that outcome isn’t possible without an innovation culture and an innovation process. Our schools are preparing our kids for jobs that are continually evolving or don’t even yet exist. That’s all the more reason to teach our children the fundamentals of innovation - a curious mindset and openness to new ideas, a process for thinking and problem-solving - and to help them embrace a mindset of innovation and creativity. The Forest Hills School District is on the path towards equipping our kids for the future.

Sara and her husband, Rick, have two children. Will attends Eastern Middle School and Ellery attends Knapp Forest. Andrew and his wife, Joy, have one daughter, Adelyn, who attends Ada Vista Elementary School.
Project 64 is a program that uses drawing as a means of teaching curricula and concepts to kindergarten students. The project was developed by a Michigan-based organization, Drawing Children into Reading and initially implemented at Thornapple Elementary School. Through several grants awarded by the Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation, Project 64 is now used across the school district in order to accelerate and broaden student learning in early elementary school.
In fall of 2011, Thornapple Elementary Learning Consultant Sue Laurie picked up a copy of the Michigan Reading Journal and saw something that sparked her interest. She had an idea to submit a grant to the Forest Hills Educational Foundation. “I wrote the initial grant that taught the initial teachers in the district about this project. That was four years ago,” Laurie said. “Originally at that time I was working at Thornapple Elementary as their reading consultant, and so I wrote a grant for the kindergarten teachers at Thornapple to be trained in the project.”

The project she is referring to is Project 64, a program developed by Michigan-based Drawing Children into Reading that  teaches kindergarten students many concepts by simply drawing. Project 64 includes daily warm up activities and weekly 70 minute lessons, where teachers bring drawing instruction to their kindergarten students through step-by-step lessons.

The initial grant Laurie wrote was just enough to get the program started at Thornapple. “More and more teachers then became interested,” said Laurie. “I wrote another grant that provided 11 more teachers with the necessary training and tools needed to be a part of this project. Following that, I did another grant. Currently, all of our kindergarten teachers across the district have been trained and are using the program.”

One of the first teachers that participated was Kim Fowler. Both Laurie and Fowler expressed that they saw a huge improvement in the kids that participated in the project in the first year compared to students who didn’t participate. “At the end of the first year of implementation, we compared my class' district writing assessments with a similar class at Ada Elementary who did not receive Project 64 instruction,” Fowler said. “There was a significant difference.” Specifically they saw better handwriting, spacing in student writing, appropriate pencil grip, and planning for space on the page. “It really is a great program, and I feel fortunate to be able to implement it with my students,” Fowler said.

Founder of Drawing Children into Reading, Wendy Halperin, is happy that Project 64 has impacted so many young children’s lives across Michigan and across the country. She attributed the project’s growth to all the new ideas and help they have gotten over the years. “It took two years to find the right school and the right teachers to implement the idea. As the project grows there are continually new ideas we weave into the project,” said Halperin, who is also an award winning author and illustrator. “I call these ideas the WE in Wendy. Many, many people have contributed to where we are now. Just yesterday in a webinar with two educators in Texas, we came up with many new lessons in math and science based on their curriculum needs.”

“My next challenge is to tie together the happiness children have when they draw science, math, engineering and language arts concepts with the books and articles by hand surgeons and neuroscientists about the benefits of fine motor development and those connections or pathways to the brain. The best time to intervene is between the ages of birth to nine years old,” said Halperin. “I am convinced of the benefits and am working hard to weave together an argument to demonstrate these advantages for children. A documentary film, a non profit organization, teachers and students together will help us to tell this story and convince educators to join us in this effort.”

Halperin believes with more help and resources they can continue to grow this program and hopefully help more students develop their writing and drawing skills. “Drawing Children Into Reading is a vehicle for young people to develop an approach to work, organization, and the development of skills that will last a lifetime as they are all transferable,” said Halperin. “The Project also reinforces the idea that development of skills takes place over a period of time with practice. This is important as we live in an age of immediacy.”

Mackenzie Yob, Forest Hills Central senior
Advanced Writing for Publications, taught by Ken George

Gone Boarding is a class that started at Forest Hills Eastern High School. After three years of actively engaging students at FHE, the district expanded the class, bringing Gone Boarding’s  unique focus and cross-disciplinary approach to learning to all three Forest Hills high schools. The success of this class is due to the vision of teachers Bill Curtis and B.J. McCartney.  The Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation has provided several grants to the Gone Boarding class, helping the program to launch, grow, and expand to all three high schools.   
“Kids at FHC and FHN have been asking for Gone Boarding for a couple years,” said Bill Curtis, the Gone Boarding teacher at FHE. “And with the help of the grant we received from the Foundation, they are now able to experience the class.”

The Gone Boarding class is a two hour period in which students learn how to surf, longboard, skateboard, paddleboard, and snowboard, all while learning real-world skills such as marketing and video production.

The Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation funded FHN’s and FHC’s new Gone Boarding classes with proper safety equipment.

“We requested safety equipment because the program was expanding to our sister schools,” said Curtis.

Along with the industrial arts teachers from FHC and FHN, Rob Miedema and Scott Kemperman, respectively, Curtis requested the funding in order to purchase the basic necessities of Gone Boarding: wetsuits, wetsuit hoods, wetsuit gloves, wetsuit boots and skate helmets for every student involved in the new programs.

“We would not be able to surf without proper wetsuits, and surfing is an integral part of the Gone Boarding class. Also, when skateboarding or longboarding, it is absolutely mandatory for students to wear a helmet,” said Curtis.

The new equipment was implemented when the 2015-2016 school year began.

Alexis Simonson, Forest Hills Eastern senior  
Advanced Writing for Publications, taught by Kathleen Devarenne
Forest Hills began offering the Google Bootcamp training to educators as a result of the passion and drive of Kelly Kermode at Forest Hills Eastern High School. With the support of grants from the Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation, teachers across the district have been trained on how to integrate Google Apps into their curricula, resulting in increased work efficiency, communications, and student engagement.
Forest Hills Public Schools has a long history of embracing technology. That history includes adopting Google Apps for Education for its staff and students six years ago. With focused hands-on learning opportunities, staff are now looking for ways to streamline their workflows, become more efficient, and enhance instructional practices.
Through a grant from the Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation the district has been able to offer an exciting and intensive two-day Google Bootcamp for many of its teachers. This training is led by the district’s very own Google Certified Trainer and Google Certified Innovator, Kelly Kermode. Last year, the Bootcamps were offered four times, with a goal of offering four more during the 2015-2016 academic year. Each Google Bootcamp invites one representative from each of the District’s K-12 schools to explore new and innovate ways to approach teaching and learning.
The training is focused on applications that will streamline classroom communication and access to resources allowing teachers to make learning:
  • inquiry-based
  • collaborative
  • engaging
  • student-centered
Technology allows students and teachers the flexibility and creativity to reach academic goals while individualizing the learning.  By utilizing the power of the Google Apps for Education as introduced in the Google Bootcamps, teachers can break down walls to allow for greater student engagement and participation.  
The training gives teachers hands-on experiences with the entire Google Apps for Education suite. Of equal value is the power of providing inquisitive, professional educators the opportunity to join together for two days to communicate, collaborate, and grow together under the experienced guidance of a nationally-recognized  instructional technology professional.  
According to Kelly Kermode, “When a small group of teachers is brought together who have been working in their own pockets and give them space to share, it not only gives them validation but energizes them to go back to share in their buildings.”
The plan to offer more opportunities to repeat this training will be complemented with other offerings at the next level. As one of the participants in Google Bootcamp, Bill Godin, states, “Google Bootcamp helps us meet our goal of preparing students for successful futures.”

Written by Kathy White, past Foundation Board Member with help from Kelly Kermode, Tracy Chrenka, and Christopher Patrick (FHPS staff)
The mission of the Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation is to provide funding for all areas of academic excellence in Forest Hills Public Schools. The generosity of our donors allows us to fund Individual Teacher Grants and Destination:  Innovation Grants. The support of the Forest Hills’ community allows our children to have amazing opportunities to learn, grow and develop in unbelievable ways. You can give securely online at, by sending a check to FHPSF at 600 Forest Hill Avenue SE, Grand Rapids MI 49546, or by calling the Foundation office at (616) 493-8954. Thank you for your support of the Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation.  
Copyright © 2015 Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation,
All rights reserved.

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