They were recruited to come up with unusual ways to improve education in Rock Hill.
On Monday, Rock Hill schools' band of "positive deviants" - people tasked with coming up with bold ideas through unconventional ways of thinking - presented three ideas:
Creating a public boarding school for teenagers
Grouping children in kindergarten not by age but by academic ability
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Adopting a system to gauge teachers' effectiveness
School board members heard the suggestions at a meeting, but didn't comment or vote on them. They're expected to consider them for several weeks before discussing whether to implement any of the plans.
Superintendent Lynn Moody recruited the group of roughly two dozen last summer.
"People who think differently," Moody said at the time. "They're not conformists. They look at you and say, 'Why do we have to do that?'"
Applicants were screened through questionnaires.
Since assembling, the team has been meeting with Rock Hill educators. Their two caveats: Ideas must focus on boosting student achievement, and they must be inexpensive.
With state money for schools shrinking, Moody said, looking outside the realm of South Carolina educators could spark cost-effective innovation.
The group broke into smaller teams, each with an idea to refine.
School board members met with three teams on Monday.
Here are the groups' ideas:
It would be a place where a small number of high school students - maybe 30 or 40 - "live together in a dorm-like atmosphere, with a constant adult presence, but not necessarily active supervision."
After a day of classes, students would take part in mandatory extra-curricular activities and community service projects before returning. They would cook, clean up and do laundry.
There would be "leadership and technology training with specialized, state-of-the-art opportunities around every bend." Students could go home on weekends and holidays.
The goal would be to give students a taste of life away from home like they would experience in college.
"The kids are prepared when they graduate to go anywhere they want, whether it's USC or Harvard," group member Chad Simpson said. "They've got the social skills and the discipline."
The boarding school would be for high-achieving students as well as teens with potential, Simpson said.
Mount Gallant Elementary Principal Latoya Dixon, who worked on the idea with the group, said she knows of students who could benefit. She encounters students who make her think, "If I could just take away this particular barrier from their home life."
The plan would cost money. But the team hopes to find sponsors and business partners, Simpson said.
The curriculum for kindergarten through second grade would be tossed out. Students would be grouped not by age, but by ability to read, write and do math.
That would make it easier to spot their weaknesses and address them, group member Chris Ruppe said. Students and teachers would rotate in and out of groups.
Groups would focus primarily on reading and math, while incorporating other subjects like science and social studies. That would prevent students from moving on without first learning to read, Ruppe said.
The hope is that achievement gaps could be closed before they grow and advanced students could be challenged at higher levels.
"We have kids in first grade who really need to be challenged at the second-grade level," said Cassie Cagle, assistant principal at Sunset Park Center for Accelerated Studies.
Measure teacher effectiveness
For students to succeed, an effective teacher is key, group members told the school board.
While the group didn't propose a specific method to measure teachers' effectiveness, they discussed the merits of doing so and encouraged the district to use student performance to assess educators.
"You're paying $65,000 (salary and benefits for a teacher) for the absolute best and you're paying $65,000 for the absolute worst," said Linda Winter, a group member and Winthrop University assistant professor of curriculum and pedagogy.
Most South Carolina school districts rely on principals to evaluate teachers after viewing them in action. Using students test scores to measure teachers would add an objective component, Winter said.
An increasingly common way of rating teachers' effectiveness is through value-added analysis. It's a complex formula that crunches students' test scores over several years and determines not whether a teacher caused them to pass, but how much they improved over time.
The method has been controversial in other school systems, with critics questioning whether the measures are imprecise. Experts recommend counting the measurement score as just a part of a teacher's annual evaluation.
Educators expect state lawmakers one day will require schools to measure teacher effectiveness.
"That train has probably left the station," group member and Winthrop associate professor of education Marshall Jones said. "We can define it as a district before the state defines it for us."