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Bill to encourage innovation in schools

A bipartisan bill to allow school board approved waivers of North Dakota education laws when it would improve delivery or administration was signed by Gov. Doug Burgum on April 3.

Senate Bill 2186, which becomes effective Aug. 1 and will promote innovation in schools, was sponsored by Sen. Nicole Poolman, R-Bismarck, who is also an English teacher at Century High School in Bismarck. The bill waives state rules and structures to allow schools to adapt to changes in instructional methods that improve academic success, which must be approved by the local school board and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler, she said in a press release.

"It certainly does allow a greater level of innovation," said Robert Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public School District. "I'm encouraged and thankful to our legislators in the support of this legislation."

The current regulations and legal requirements for education do provide roadblocks for innovative practices sometimes, he said. There have always been instructional waivers that allow a school district to deviate from regulations and legal requirements, but SB 2186 mitigates other hurdles to pursuing creative and innovative methods, he said.

"We have completed instructional waivers in the past to provide early dismissals for professional learning opportunities, but we are not presently working on anything that we would be ready to submit an application," Lech said.

The bill was backed by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, North Dakota United, the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders, the North Dakota School Boards Association, the governor's office and parents seeking innovative, student-centric education.

Baesler said in a press release that the bill gives schools the opportunity to prepare multi-year innovation plans with support from educators, parents and school boards.

"Innovation requires us to take a close look at our current practices, and think about ways to make them better," Baesler said.