New Designs for School
New Designs for School

We’ve all had the experience of truly purposeful, authentic learning and know how valuable it is. Educators are taking the best of what we know about learning, student support, effective instruction, and interpersonal skill-building to completely reimagine schools so that students experience that kind of purposeful learning all day, every day.

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Primary Contact Name:
Jack Hayes
Award Date:
October 2012
Grant Type:
National Launch
Start Date:
Fall 2013
Startup Type:
New School

School Name: The STEAM Academy
Grades Served: 9–12
Location: Lexington, KY
Operator: Fayette County Public Schools
Operator Type: School District
Setting: Urban
Students at Start: 150
Students at Capacity: 600

Blended Model Type: Station Rotation and A La Carte

Key Features: Competency-Based Learning, Dual Enrollment, Higher Education Partnership

Fayette County Public Schools and the University of Kentucky imagine a 21st-century school that is flexible and adaptable, technology rich, responsive to student and teacher needs, and recognizes and extends learning beyond the traditional school day and classroom. The STEAM Academy, an urban public school that opened in fall 2013, incorporates mastery learning, personalized instruction, internships, and dual/college credit opportunities. The goal: to ensure that students will graduate college and career ready, and experienced. Low-income, first-generation college, and traditionally underserved students have enrollment preference.

The STEAM Academy uses an innovative, hybrid instructional program based in student‐paced, mastery- and problem‐based experiential learning. Technology helps deliver content and real-time assessment to provide students with greater autonomy, help instructors better diagnose and address each student's needs, and engage parents more effectively.

Student voice and student agency are central to the school model. Students take ownership of their learning by choosing their instructional delivery, schedule, and learning style and engaging in real-world problem-solving projects that interest them. At the classroom level students work to mastery with time as a variable. Some students may move thorough the coursework in two years and matriculate into classes at the University of Kentucky while others need four years to be ready for college or career. Demonstration of mastery is determined by summative assessments and evidence collected in an e-portfolio.

Upon entering the school, students are assigned an adviser who will remain with the student until graduation. Advisory groups meet bi‐weekly throughout the year to provide guidance in college and career readiness skills, personal goal setting and monitoring, and problem identification and solution finding.

The district is taking advantage of an environment ripe for innovation.

Innovation waivers provide unprecedented flexibility in seat time, enabling a true competency-based approach. The University of Kentucky P20 Innovation Lab (part of CCSSO’s Partnership for Next Generation Learning) is helping to create the innovative infrastructure and instructional model. In addition, teachers work with Innovation Lab faculty members and other UK faculty who provide training across a range of instructional innovations including project‐based learning, performance assessment, and technology integration. Preparation of these teachers also includes a mentoring component with master teachers, teacher leaders, and content specialists within Fayette County Schools. Ultimately, the STEAM Academy serves as an incubator--where pre-service and master teachers gain experience in a mastery-based blended learning environment, and a lab–where UK faculty can research and pilot new innovations.

Photo by Britt Selvitelle [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons