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About the Center

Many organizations support internal research and development programs that encourage opportunities for growth and foster innovative practices. Scarsdale teachers have designed and implemented many innovative projects in recent years, but the district does not have a formal way to encourage and showcase innovative instructional projects. In addition, the District has been hosting conversations about system-wide innovation, asking questions like:
  • What will schools look like in the future?
  • What kinds of spaces do we need to support instruction and collaborative work in 5-10 years?
  • How will technology transform curriculum, instruction, and assessment?

Nationally, most of the work being done in this area is sponsored by university research labs or private, for-profit institutions. The Scarsdale Center for Innovation will be the only innovation center to be hosted and supported by a K-12 school district.

This Center would showcase the work of teachers who are interested in using leading edge technology to improve instructional practices and reimagine teaching and learning.

The purpose of the Center is:

  • to re-imagine teaching and learning, develop new models of instruction, and explore the role of technology in transforming instruction
  • to foster widespread change, beyond a single classroom or teacher
  • to learn how other organizations foster innovative practices and possibly replicate their techniques and structures in Scarsdale

 Topics explored could include:

  • The changing format of content delivery (eBooks, Web, Infographics)
  • The transformation of pedagogy and the benefits of collaborative group projects
  • The use social learning networks for online learning and collaboration
  • The re-design of school spaces to facilitate teaching and learning
  • The promise of mobile learning devices for providing anytime, anywhere instruction

Based on successful models of university and corporate technology R&D programs, such as the MIT Media Lab and Apple Advanced Technology Group, the Center would provide opportunities for Scarsdale to continue its leadership role in demonstrating innovative instructional practices. Some examples of projects that would be sponsored by the Center could include:

  • Authoring of Web-based activities that incorporate streaming video and interactive technology.

  • Site-based research studies that explore the most effective teaching practices
  • Instructional software design and development
  • The creation of structures that foster interdisciplinary learning experiences
  • Innovative models of instructional practice that incorporate technology
  • Creation of networks that support digital student and teacher portfolios 

  • Exploration of mobile computing devices, such as PDAs, laptops, and scientific probes.
  • The creation of projects that allow students to explore authentic complex real-life problem based on the “New Humanities.”

We expect that the work of the Center would involve teachers and students. Members of the community would serve in an advisory capacity. In addition, the Center would foster conversation among the faculty, sponsor field trips to corporate and university R&D centers, partner with university researchers, and collaborate with other school districts.


Our Story

In the fall of 2011, Scarsdale superintendent Dr. Michael McGill challenged the faculty to think about the future of public education. He called for the establishment of a formal organization, the Scarsdale Center for Innovation, to help the school community “rethink” how teaching and learning would change during the next decade. In the fall of 2012, the Scarsdale Center for Innovation was formally established with funding provided by the Scarsdale Board of Education. Lynne Shain, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, and Jerry Crisci, Director of Technology, were asked to lead and manage the Center.

Fostering innovation in K-12 education has many challenges. Schools operate in a highly regulated environment, teachers are typically risk-averse, and education has a tradition of slow, organic change. The Center would have to address these issues in order to carry out its mission.

The Scarsdale Center for Innovation is unique in that it is based in a K-12 public school district, not hosted by a university or a corporation. This is a new model of innovation, and the Center had to decide how it should be structured without the benefit of looking at work in other districts. The focus of the Center is on "big ideas" and large scale transformation, allowing teachers to question the status quo and re-imagine teaching and learning. An important function of the Center is to support projects that would explore or demonstrate innovative educational practice.

Planning the Center
A group of teachers and administrators began to think about the structure of the Center. They quickly realized that they needed to plan site visits to observe how educational institutions create opportunities for innovation. Because they could not find examples of K-12 innovation labs, they decided to visit centers that were hosted by universities. They contacted representatives from the Harvard iLab, the newest university innovation lab, as well as a professor at the MIT Media Lab, the oldest lab dedicated to innovation. These visits helped the Scarsdale planning team understand the key design principles of an organization that promotes innovation.

After returning from their initial site visits, the team agreed to host a series of focus groups to help define the Center. Planning for the Center required input from all stakeholders. Over 90 teachers attended the Center's "kickoff" meeting. Community members and high school seniors were asked to provide ideas that would inform the work of the Center.

After listening to ideas from District stakeholders, it was determined that the Center should sponsor a number of activities to promote understanding about how schools could engage in innovative thinking. These included research, program development, and site visits to organizations that were designed to foster innovation. In addition to visits to the Harvard iLab and the MIT Media Lab, members of the planning team visited the "Edgeless School" exhibit at the American Institute of Architecture in New York City. Some team members visited the Avenues School in New York, a private, technology enriched school in Manhattan. Team members also had conversations with representatives from Google, university faculty members, representatives from IDEO, a technology design firm, and other educational consultants.

A Steering Committee was formed to draft the Center for Innovation mission statement and project proposal applications. The committee created criteria for the proposals, specifying that all grants had to be:

• Aligned with the District’s strategic plan - The Scarsdale Education for Tomorrow
• Focused on institutional redesign
• Large scale (i.e. a structural change in delivery of curriculum, instruction, assessment, support services, physical plant)
• Based on an original idea, or build on an existing initiative by taking it to a larger scale

Scarsdale teachers submitted innovation project proposals, and eight projects were selected to receive funding and support.