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Montour Schools: Home of the Evolving Educators

By Tom Vander Ark — December 18, 2017 4 min read
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Halfway between the Pittsburgh airport and downtown, you pass through the Montour School District which serves five towns and 3,000 students. About a third of students live in or near poverty.

“Home of the evolving educators,” Montour is led by Dr. Christopher Stone (@CHRISSTONE111) who was the middle school principal 10 years ago.

Stone (pictured above) and his colleagues are “creating a culture of moonshot thinkers.” They use what Stone called sound risk taking and outside of the box pedagogical strategies to keep students motivated and engaged.

High School Opportunities

About traditional high schools, Todd Price, the Pennsylvania Principal of the Year (below), said,

“We treat 16 to 18 year old young people like little kids.” He leads the high school where they have eliminated bells and have added an hour of choice for personalized learning.

Students are at the center in Montour. That means, said Price, “that some decisions may be non traditional.” Students designed the school flag through the schools project-based course created with an emphasis on human-centered design thinking.

“Failure is OK in this building,” said Price, “You’re going to learn more by not being successful than by being successful.”

The high school includes lots of options including six engineering courses and eight AP courses.

The Tech Lab includes four large well equipped makerspaces. A virtual immersion lab features 3D Zspace computers. Students start using Autodesk Inventor design software in middle school and build amazing creations in high school.

While there are a couple cool makerspaces, Price said that more important than the space is developing a maker culture.

“We pay attention to mental health,” said Price. A no-tech lounge is a place teens can talk about what’s going on. Montour is piloting an empathy curriculum with NGLC.

Below, Justin Aglio (@JustinAglio), the district director of innovation and director of academic achievement, stands in a high school hallway that illustrates the district’s core values: putting children first, supporting growth mindset, and creating learning culture.

Elementary Schools

The new elementary building is home to two schools: Team Discovery and Team Curiosity. A teacher steering committee selected creative furniture to engage group discussions and accommodate individual comfort. The furniture selection includes desks for small group instruction, optional seating for students with stand-up desks, ball seating for additional movement and traditional chairs.

A big learning lab looks like a sky chalet. Upstairs is a LEGO Makerspace. Co-principal Jason Burik (@jasonburikmsd) is a world-renowned LEGO artist. “LEGO has always been a passion of mine, and now I am excited to not only share my love for education with everyone but also showcase how LEGOs are used to support learning,” said Burik.

The new school features a Minecraft Education Lab. “We are so excited to be part of the conversation and transformation happening there and hope to share what we learn together with other districts and schools around the world,” Meenoo Rami, Manager for Minecraft Education at Microsoft.

The LEGO Makerspace is also home to NoRILLA (below), an online and hands on system that helps students evaluate building stability in a seismic zone. Students pick or build towers and subject them to shaking to see if one or both of them falls over and in doing so they learn some physics.

The elementary schools feature the 26 Club: students that run 26 miles, read 26 books, and complete 26 acts of kindness.

Every K-12 student has a Chromebook (including special touchscreen Chromebooks for students grades K-4). Google classroom is used to make and manage assignments in grades 3-12.

A well-equipped calming sensory room, developed in partnership with Slippery Rock University, is used to de-escalate situations with students with special learning needs.

The elementary schools is organized into grades K, 1-2, and 3-4 clusters each with common space including eight circular areas with whiteboard paint on the walls to promote collaboration. They share an outdoor Amphitheater.

District Worth Visiting

Like many districts support by the #RemakeLearning network in Pittsburgh, Montour is a district alive with learning.

Montour is a great place to learn for adults too. With the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Montour created TransformED West to provide professional development opportunities including design thinking sessions, technology integration sessions and other activities designed to remake learning for all.

Housed in a high school classroom, the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) LearnLab at Montour, convenes classroom teachers from three districts and university researchers to help introduce evidence-based EdTech projects into classrooms and take science and mathematics instruction to the next level. Recently Montour hosted an #EdResearchSummit with CMU.

Montour is recognized by Common Sense Media as a Common Sense District for its instruction in digital citizenship.

Like five other innovative small districts around Pittsburgh, Montour is a member of the League of Innovative Schools.

Next time you fly into Pittsburgh, stop and visit Montour where empowered educators, community partnerships, and networks of likeminded schools inspire powerful learning.

This post is part of a blog series in the upcoming “Getting Smart on Reinventing Education” Smart Bundle produced in partnership with The Grable Foundation. Join the conversation on Twitter using #RemakeLearning. For more, check out the other blogs in the series:


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