Horry County Schools K-12 Breakthrough Models

Horry County Schools Whittemore Park Middle School application video

School Name: Whittemore Park Middle School
Grades Served: 6-8
Location: Conway, SC
Operator: Horry County Schools
Operator Type: School District
Setting: Urban
Students at Start: 200
Students at Capacity: 900

Blended Model Type: Lab Rotation

Key Features: Competency-Based Learning, Social-Emotional Learning

The school district of Horry County Schools in South Carolina is turning around Whittemore Park Middle School, a low-performing, high-poverty public school. The highly student-centered iCAN model is designed around a blended core academic curriculum and a carefully constructed system of supports. The competency-based model both accelerates academic gains and develops students’ lifelong skills and dispositions in a holistic approach to college and career readiness.

iCAN is an acronym for the model’s central elements: individualized, college and career readiness, aspirations of students, and network of support. The model personalizes learning through four support structures: iCAN Learning Teams, iCAN Academy groups, iCAN Exploratory Courses, and iCAN Extended Learning.

In iCAN Learning Teams, groups of one hundred students spend significant time working with digital content, facilitated by four core academic teachers, who provide individual and small group instruction and support. Student groups are flexible and fluid based on weekly assessments of competency and structured around individual student need and learning preferences. Students move among the four Learning Team classrooms based on their personalized learning plans, constructed around each student’s aspirations, learning preferences, and demonstrated proficiency. The Common Core State Standards guide selection of content, strategies, learning activities, and assessments in digital, face-to-face, situated, and experiential contexts. Within their teams, students advance based on demonstration of learning through vertically aligned assessments that measure across grade bands.

The iCAN Academy is a comprehensive program focusing on academic and social support, metacognitive development, and lifelong learning skills. Students stay with their small Academy groups—which will meet daily for 50 minutes—throughout their middle school years. College and community partners help by providing mentoring and experiential activities.

iCAN Exploratory Courses are enriching learning opportunities designed around students’ interests and range from robotics to choral music. Students learn anytime, anywhere through iCAN Extended Learning. Tech tools allow students to interact with digital content, teachers, and peers beyond the traditional school day and outside the school building. Face-to-face tutorials are provided before and after school.

As the model is implemented, Whittemore Park anticipates identifying groups of students using different nomenclature. Rather than identifying a student as “in 6th grade,” for example, the school identifies the student as “in year one” since students are taking courses in a variety of grade levels.

In addition to ongoing professional development to build human capacity, the principal is undertaking a number of steps to ensure that the model is staffed by the most highly-qualified teachers. Existing teachers were interviewed for teaching positions in the iCAN model and new teachers were recruited in close partnership with the local university’s undergraduate and graduate education programs. A variety of constructs provide differentiated support for teachers as well as a system for monitoring and evaluating teacher practice. Through professional development designed and managed by the leadership team, teachers have whole group, small group, and individualized opportunities to learn.

The school’s principal, who has extensive experience successfully turning around schools, has been given complete autonomy to innovate and alter all aspects of the existing school. In partnership with the district, the school has begun exploration of alternative course credentialing, preparing to apply for waivers for the iCAN model for current seat time requirements. As one observer of the school’s model commented, “They are really creating a new middle school model rather than shuffling the chairs in a turnaround.”

The iCAN model served as a promising practices model for the 43 schools within its district and has since been scaled districtwide. Additional partnerships with the Riley Institute’s Center for Education Policy and Leadership and Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools networks provide additional opportunities for scale.