Watson College Hosts Statewide Conference on Innovation in Education

Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli, Provost Marilyn Sheerer and Watson College Dean Van Dempsey welcomed more than 150 guests to UNCW for an innovation conference on April 30. The conference was designed to bring education leaders, policy makers, business leaders and other influential individuals together to showcase successful programs and discuss ways to foster innovation in K-12 schools. The event was the first of its kind in North Carolina.

Featured speakers and panelists included Mark Johnson, NC State Superintendent; Senator Michael Lee, R- New Hanover County; Brenda Berg, President and CEO of Best NC; Jonathan Rowe, Chief Marketing Officer, nCino; Steven Hill, Superintendent, Pender County Schools; Janet Mason, Superintendent, Rutherford County Schools; Austin Obasohan, Superintendent, Duplin County Schools; and numerous principals and teachers.

Keith Poston, President and Executive Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, was Presider at the conference.

In a keynote address titled “School on F.I.R.E!” Buddy Berry shared his district’s Framework of Innovation for Reinventing Education, and challenged conference participants to switch from a “map model” to a “compass model” when approaching innovation. “Schools can be fun and rigorous, awesome and engaging,” he said. “You don’t need to develop a comprehensive plan. What you need is a vision for personalized learning and what you want innovation to be. Then, start to think differently and move toward it.”

Berry is Superintendent of Eminence Independent Schools in Eminence, Kentucky. “Surprise and Delight” and other strategies he has introduced to engage students and enhance their learning experiences were recently featured on Edutopia and can be viewed here.

Johnson has visited schools across North Carolina since assuming the role of State Superintendent in January 2017. “There are pockets of innovation all over the state,” he said. “More needs to be done to identify them, showcase them and figure out how to scale them.”

During the afternoon, Johnson joined Senator Lee, Brenda Berg, Austin Obasohan and Laney High School teacher Danielle Williams in a panel discussion on ways to create the infrastructure to support innovation in education. The panel discussion can be viewed here:

Common themes that emerged during the conference are:

  • The pace of disruption in our world is accelerating so schools need to prepare students to thrive in an environment that does not yet exist.
  • Teachers and principals need to be given the autonomy to succeed.
  • Educators serve students, not tests.
  • Educators, policy makers, businesses and all of society have a stake in schools’ success.
  • Educators need to partner with industry to delineate pathways from high school to career.
  • More events like this are needed to engage stakeholders in constructive conversations about education.

“North Carolina faces both significant challenges and tremendous opportunities in public education. We will be much better positioned to overcome the challenges and seize the opportunities if we have all voices and stakeholders at the table to listen to, learn from, and move forward together,” said Watson College Dean Van Dempsey. “The Innovation Conference can provide a forum to foster constructive dialogue for the benefit of children throughout the state of North Carolina. We trust that this is the beginning of a long and fruitful conversation that will lead to the broad creation and implementation of innovative practices and learning opportunities in education.”

Robert Smith, Murphy Professor of Education at the Watson College, coordinated the conference. View the full-day program here.