Johnston County

Johnston plans lab school to put educational theory into practice

Some experiments produce breakthroughs, while others blow up in our faces, but either way, we learn something.

Johnston County plans to launch yet another alternative school, this one designed to put education theory into practice. School leaders are calling it the Laboratory Learning Center and are targeting middle school students along the Interstate 95 corridor.

Deputy Superintendent Eddie Price said the school will give the district a way to put newer teaching methods and learning models into practice. Many of those methods, he said, will allow students to make education more hands on, largely through projects and more-personalized lessons. The school will also aim to develop presentation and digital skills.

This is the future, Price said. “The lab school environment embraces the growth mindset,” he said, noting that while it’s a way to expose students to different types of learning, it also pushes the development of teachers. “In the studio school, there will be greater freedom to test pedagogical strategies, investigate methods that embrace student input and choice ... A small studio environment can focus on relationships.”

More and more, Johnston and school districts across the country are moving away from the traditional kindergarten through 12th grade track. Johnston has a number of specialized alternative schools, ones that reject the traditional high school experience and focus on learning a skill or getting a jump-start on college. The lab school will be Johnston’s first attempt at bringing an alternative model to middle school.

Initially, the school will have 100 students per grade for the three middle school years, Price said. It will give enrollment priority to lower-income students and those interested in later enrolling in the IB or AVID programs at Smithfield-Selma High School. IB is short for International Baccalaureate, a rigorous high school program designed in part to better prepare students for college. AVID is Advancement Via Individual Determination; it’s designed primarily for students who want to be the first from their families to attend college.

Students at the lab school will have the right of first refusal for the district’s alternative high schools.

More than any other thing, Price said, the lab school is meant to send students to college. “The students will know when they go to this school they will be going to college, no ands, ifs or buts about it.”

The lab school comes out of the district’s “JoCo 2020” campaign, a guide to what the county wants education to look like in the year 2020. Price said the lab school will help the school system polish some of those ideas and make students more directly engaged with their learning.

“This could be the most impactful leverage point of JoCo 2020,” Price said, later noting that the model comes out of a number of inner-city school systems where, he said, it has been successful.

At this point, some of the finer details of the lab school remain unknown, including where it will be housed or what specific programs students might take part in. Regardless, Price sees the lab school as a way to get more eastern Johnston County students into institutions of higher learning.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the I-95 corridor,” Price said. “I think we can make an impact in the community by taking 300 students and, for lack of a better word, brainwashing them if necessary that they will be college-bound students.”

The school board was supportive, quickly and unanimously throwing its support behind the lab school.

“It’s pretty awesome,” school board chairman Mike Wooten said.