Jones family donates to SIS School of Innovation

SHELTON — Shelton Intermediate's School of Innovation is getting a financial boost from one of the city’s most well-known and longest-running family businesses.

Jones Family Farms is donating $1,000 to the School of Innovation. Terry Jones, whose family has owned and operated the popular tree farm for generations, announced the donation at the Board of Education meeting Jan. 22.

“I am a big fan of Shelton Intermediate School,” said Jones, who was also, until recently, a member of the Connecticut Board of Education. “There are amazing things going on there.”

Jones said he learned as a state board member that every child learns in different ways.

“When you figure out the way to light that fire, it is incredible. I think the creation of the School of Innovation speaks to that. I see kids thriving in it … it is a great idea,” added Jones.

Assistant Superintendent Ken Saranich, who helped spearhead the creation of the School of Innovation during his time as SIS principal, said Jones' donation was “a surprise to all of us.”

"The Jones family has always been a stalwart supporter of Shelton education, and especially to Shelton Intermediate School,” said SIS Principal Dina Marks. “We are very grateful for their support and encouragement through the years and will use their generous donation on an endeavor to benefit the entire school and all its students."

Saranich said the administration has not yet determined how to use the donation.

The School of Innovation has its own area of the SIS building. The area is designated for specialized learning with the more hands-on parts of the program using the garden laboratory and other science and technology-based project areas.

School Superintendent Chris Clouet said the School of Innovation is a place “where excellence meets creativity,” as students use the four Cs of 21st-century skills — communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

Saranich said he had wanted to change the educational offerings for years, and it was Clouet’s arrival that prompted the creation of a model that involves a lot more than flexible scheduling, with student preferences dictating the curriculum. There are projects and themes and a liberal use of technology.

The School of Innovation and the traditional model run in the building simultaneously. Students are chosen for the School of Innovation through a lottery. They can choose to opt out, and Clouet said there are children on a waiting list ready to fill spots.

SIS’s School of Innovation is made up of eight classrooms, two groups of seventh graders, and its curriculum focuses on teaching students skills.

"The biggest takeaway from this school is the level of engagement by students,” said Saranich. “They know they are investing in their own education, and it shows in their study habits, desire to attend and the results produced.”

There are 200 students in the School of Innovation now. The numbers are based on how many instructors they can employ for the classes.

Shelton officials say the program costs no more than the traditional classroom. Program development was built in existing summer curriculum development time. Students still get language arts, math, science and social studies, but not as distinct courses.

For the most part, the school has done away with class periods. Teachers work together on lessons based on a theme of the week. Work is recorded on digital portfolios. On Fridays, students demonstrate what they learn in any number of ways.

“We are preparing students for the 21st century,” Clouet said.