Doing School Better

Innovation ECPS News: Fall 2021

From Challenge to Change

Our students and families face immense challenges right now as a result of COVID-19. The ECPS team, led by Superintendent Dr. Valerie Bridges (pictured here), is working hard to meet urgent needs in our community. We are sending laptops home, opening Pre-K classrooms up to three year-olds, providing mental health supports for our students, and creating safe learning environments in every school. Yet we have another job. ECPS is called to address immediate concerns and continue to build the innovative programs that will ensure students can meet whatever the world throws their way. The future is coming, and our students and communities need us to be ready.

Are you ready to see how ECPS students, educators, and community members are collaborating to prepare our scholars to design their own futures, navigate change, and make the world a better place? If so, read on! And if this newsletter inspires feedback or questions - or a desire to join the ECPS team! - please don't hesitate to reach out to Erin Swanson, Assistant Superintendent for Innovation and Strategic Planning, at

Learning in Hubs + Pods

During the summer of 2020, we began hearing about "pandemic pods." Small groups of parents, primarily in wealthy areas, were hiring teachers and bringing their children together for classes in living rooms and backyards across the country. In ECPS, we figured that if these children could have the benefits of in-person learning during a pandemic, ours could, too! In 2020-21, ECPS teachers across the district offered learning pods for our virtual learners in schools, apartment complexes, libraries - even Indian Lake park! Our learning pods were featured in the New York Times, as they gave our students the chance to make critical human connections and build their academic skills in a safe space.

We are building on this innovative approach this school year. In addition to offering elementary students learning virtually the chance to join a Pod every week, ECPS will pilot a "Learning Hub and Spoke" approach at Princeville Elementary School, West Edgecombe Middle School, and North Edgecombe High School. With the support of a Learning Hubs Innovation grant from CRPE and TNTP, nearly 300 ECPS students will experience a whole new way to learn. Students will spend half of their time learning core content (the “hub”) and half of their time engaging in small-group experiences aligned to learning standards (the “spokes”). Spokes for K-8 students will involve community-connected, interest-based projects in science and social studies, like building a community garden or organizing a Princeville Pride Day. High schoolers will explore their passions through targeted English language arts and social studies projects, and get hands-on work experience in programs like District C. We believe this work has the potential to change the way we "do school" throughout the district. Stay tuned for updates!

Project 212

Project 212 is the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) initiative at Edgecombe Early College High School, started in 2019 by several dedicated teachers and scholars. As Sam Parker says, “At 211 degrees, water is hot. At 212 degrees, it boils. And with boiling water, comes steam. And with steam, you can power a train.” The Project 212 team is creating a comprehensive STEAM experience that is truly transformative for Edgecombe Early College High School (EECHS) - one that metaphorically moves the school from water to STEAM.

The big goal for Project 212 in 2021-22 is to provide scholars with STEAM-related experiences inside every classroom, and to take those classroom experiences out into the real world. Scholars and staff will collaborate to:

  • Create "The STEM Cell" - EECHS's very own STEM learning and exploration space on campus. "The STEM Cell" will house STEM lab equipment, Science Olympiad, and Robotics, and serve as a versatile space for STEM activities.
  • Start a Robotics team and compete in the national FIRST Robotics Competition.
  • Continue growing the NC Science Olympiad team and compete in the regional competition this spring.

Project 212 will not just improve the school. It will move EECHS to the next level - a completely different state of being - that is immersive for all scholars and permeates all aspects of the school experience.

County Line Merger: Gathering Community Perspectives

We are excited that in the years ahead, ECPS will likely welcome more Rocky Mount students to our school system! Donnell Cannon, the new ECPS Executive Director of Transition and Redesign, is beginning to lay the foundation for a potential Edgecombe/Nash county line merger. Our priorities right now are to build relationships with people most impacted by the transition, and to develop the historical and community context we need to chart our path forward. As always, we are committed to designing with students and families and not for them. Right now, we are gathering the student, family, and staff perspectives needed to build a plan that truly works for everyone in Edgecombe County.

If you are part of the Edgecombe community and have ideas or input related to the county line merger, we would love to hear from you! Please email Donnell Cannon at We hope to safely bring the community together for interactive town hall meetings in the spring of 2022.

Math, Reimagined

Math is getting a makeover at our ECPS middle schools, thanks to our phenomenal partners at Long-View Micro School in Austin, TX! Here's what our educators are saying:

Mike Jones, SEMS Multi-Classroom Leader: "At South Edgecombe Middle School, we believe that mathematics is about more than memorizing rules, following procedures and "answer getting." We value things like reasoning, sense-making, productive struggle, and making mistakes. We celebrate alternative pathways to solutions, as long as they are grounded in sound mathematics. In order to help facilitate this type of thinking, we have constructed a Number Lab-style classroom (thanks, Long-View!). We have lots of whiteboard space and collaboration tables that allow students to express their thinking and critique the reasoning of others. Our students participate in thought exercises that require them to think deeply about the mathematics they are learning and persevere while working through challenging problems. We are breaking paradigms and changing the way our students view and perform in their math classes."

Ashley Frye + Kenya Raynor, Phillips MS Teachers: "At Phillips, we believe every person is capable of learning math at the highest levels. We believe students learn best by collaborating, creating, talking, and making mistakes, so we've set up our classrooms to reflect this. All of our math students use whiteboard desks so that they can experiment with their thinking and quickly adjust their work. They also collaborate at vertical whiteboard spaces in order to get them standing and talking about math, every day. We value critical thinking and creativity over speed in mathematics. The mathematical process is just as, if not more, important than getting the "right answer" in our rooms."

Kelsey Ballard, WEMS Principal: "At West Edgecombe Middle School, we encourage students to drive their own learning by owning their mathematical understanding. We believe students learn best when applying critical thinking in pairs or small groups, hence the idea of "one marker, two minds" in the classroom. Like South Edgecombe and Phillips, we have partnered with Long-View Micro School as our teachers learn and study under the work of The Number Lab. We treat our students as mathematicians, and they rise to the challenge."

The North Phillips School of Innovation Enters Year 4

The North Phillips School of Innovation is entering its fourth year of operation! Through a strong community driven process and visionary leadership, the ECPS "Northside" community came together to reimagine school from top to bottom. In 2017, the team partnered with nationally-renowned Transcend, joining one of their first Collaboratives. They grounded their work in a human centered design approach with equity and community at the center. The result was a new school design, the North Phillips School of Innovation (NPSI), which has four signature learning experiences: 1) Personal passion exploration; 2) Membership in smaller communities called Banner and Advisory to foster belonging, sense of self, and habits of success; 3) Design for Change projects embedded in the curriculum that are focused on making real world change; and 4) Standards Labs in small groups for targeted instruction focused on high impact skills and content.

Visitors to NPSI are often particularly intrigued by Design For Change. Design for Change (DfC) is an inquiry-based, interdisciplinary learning experience, focused on real-world change-making. All 6th through 10th grade students get 150 minutes of Design for Change every day, and between both schools, there are 7 full-time Design for Change teaching positions with different specialties in ELA, Science, and Social Studies content areas.

In a Design for Change project, scholars move through all steps in the DfC framework (discover, investigate, plan, create, test out, share & reflect) with the ultimate goal of creating real, actionable change in their community and sharing their learning.

In the first week of school, scholars learned about the construction that’s happening on the Swift Creek bridge over Highway 97 between Phillips and NEHS, that is creating a year-long detour. Scholars read about the national infrastructure initiative and the state’s process for replacing bridges that are not up to code. They also learned about the theory of shapes in engineering. In groups, they built their own bridge prototypes - check out the photo below!

In the second week of school, scholars began their first full-scale Design for Change projects. High schoolers are studying the evolution of North Carolina ecosystems over time and creating an ecology guide to North Carolina to be used as part of the 4th grade curriculum in Edgecombe County elementary schools. 6th-8th graders are writing and producing a motivational video for students entitled, “Powerful Purpose,” in which they explain what they believe to be their unique purpose in life, drawing inspiration from powerful individuals throughout history who made a difference.

Check out this video to see the educators at North Phillips School of Innovation in action, and hear in their own words why their school is changing the world, one student at a time.

Big picture

Early Learning Pilots

We're not just innovating in the K-12 space - we also want to be sure our youngest Edgecombe learners are ready for the future! Last May, Business Insider released a report noting that students who attended universal Pre-K programs fared better behaviorally and were more likely to graduate high school and attend college. As a school system, we are committed to partnering with our community to support our future scholars so they will be set up to become the architects of their lives from day one.

To bring this commitment to life, ECPS joined the 2021 TIP/Kellogg Early Learning Network. The ECPS design team, which consisted of district staff, an elementary principal, and early childhood teachers, asked themselves and the community: "How might we ensure that all students in Edgecombe - whether they attend an ECPS Pre-K program or not - are ready to excel when they enter Kindergarten?" After engaging in multiple empathy interviews, extracting insights, and generating multiple ideas, the team decided to pilot a set of high-potential strategies in 2021-22. Under the leadership of our new Early Learning Partner, ECPS will implement at least three new initiatives:

1. An Edgecombe Early Learning Collaborative that consists of all Edgecombe organizations that serve children ages birth - four.

2. Early Learning Pods for 3 and 4 year-olds in each part of our community.

3. A Parent Community Educator Academy, developed in partnership with TNTP, to support our families with literacy and social-emotional learning strategies.

We are excited about this work and what it will mean for our youngest ECPS scholars - now and in the future!

About Innovation ECPS

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