Newton was not one of seven school districts chosen by the Kansas Department of Education Kansas Can school redesign dubbed the Mercury Project.

But Newton USD 373 is undeterred. Work on redesigning how schools teach, and measure effectiveness, is moving forward in the Newton district.

“We have three schools, Slate Creek, Santa Fe and Chisholm Middle School that will be joining with districts across the state to participate after they had applied for the Mercury Project,” said superintendent Deb Hamm.

Twenty-two districts were not selected for the Mercury project. Those districts have the option of participating in what is dubbed the Gemini project.

Newton is moving forward — with teacher meetings even before school started this August.

“What we will do is parallel that Mercury, what the seven districts are doing, to redesign their schools to align at a greater degree with the Kansas Can vision,” Hamm said.

They will not get quite as much support from KSDE, nor will they serve as example or demonstration districts as they move forward. They will, however, work at creating a new school environment.

“We are doing great things in our buildings and kids are successful, but what would we be doing if we were going to start all over again?” Hamm said.

Schools part of the Gemini project will participate in video sessions with other Gemini schools; set a project launch date no later than spring of 2020; collaborate with other Gemini and Mercury project schools; develop and share a project timeline with KSDE; redesign on elementary school and one secondary school; and adhere to fundamental principles of the project.

Those fundamental principles include improving early childhood education with improved kindergarten readiness; recognizing the importance of art and music to childhood development; organizing schools around students; and an intense focus on high school graduation and post-secondary success.

The project includes a look at extra-curricular activities, physical activity, balancing learning activities, student choice and long term projects as part of daily learning.

“We will be doing a lot of research about what schools are successful around the central ideas of kindergarten readiness, the impact of the arts on education and student learning,” Hamm said. “It will be looking at the outcomes — one of which is the social/emotional health of buildings.”