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Sparks of Change: A Look Inside Innovative Schools

Older traditional ideologies are being set ablaze for new, progressive, and technologically advanced models.

By Dr. Berger

Innovative schools are a hot topic; they are growing in popularity and changing district landscapes. Older traditional ideologies are being set ablaze for new, progressive, and technologically advanced models. The League of Innovative Schools is seen as the gold standard of forward thinking learning practices. It is considered a great distinction to be chosen by the League of Schools that provide working models of innovative learning.

I had the privilege to sit down and talk to Superintendent Chris Gdowski – recent league honored recipient – about the impact the program has had on his district. Adams 12 Five Star School District in Thorton, Colorado is the only district to be recognized by the league within the entire state. Gdowski is proud of the distinction and validated by being chosen as the state’s only representative district.

Gdowski specifically points to the comparative opportunity to watch other league programs, such as last year’s Baltimore meeting as greatly impactful in shaping his own district program. It was impressive, according to Gdowski, how Baltimore had moved such a large system in a short period of time. The move was not only highly effective but scaleable.

As a grad of the Adams 12 district and a long-standing member of the community, Gdowski has first-hand knowledge of the district’s history which helps him better understand its needs. He began a STEM Program within 30 days of becoming superintendent and proceeded to concentrate on longer time frame goals such as blended learning and literacy programs. The more stakeholders there are, the longer a program takes to manifest.

Gdowski sees the importance of integrating the community into decision making. He has developed surveys, conducted focus groups and even developed a Leadership Academy comprised of 50-60 parents that would meet each month to learn about the financial needs and developments of the school district.


Gdowski sites community trust and consistent engagement as important factors in bringing about effective change for his school district. Difficult conversations over bond measures, for instance, can be sussed out through engagement and long standing relationships that have been earned over time. Districts – such as Adams 12 – have less tax money per student and therefore have to be progressive with their funding approaches.

Beyond monetary investment, local businesses provide necessary “human capital” in the form of mentorship programs and panel advisory. Gdowski is also proud of a recent Ptech implementation that partners with local universities to provide students the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree while still in high school. Above all else, Gdowski is proud of the “can-do” spirit of his school district. There is an infectious element of passion with the teachers and staff – a belief that each and every kid deserves the very best.

About Chris Gdowski

Chris Gdowski is Superintendent of Adams 12 Five Star Schools; Juris Doctor from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Chris has a strong connection to Adams 12 Five Star Schools; attending school in the district, serving as the district’s lead outside legal counsel for many years, transitioning in 2006 into the in-house general counsel role, and serving as superintendent since November 2009.

During his tenure as superintendent the district’s graduation rate has improved by double digits, the graduation gap between white and Hispanic students has declined to less than 5 percent and the average ACT composite score for students has increased to its highest level. The Five Star District has opened two K-8 STEM schools and has transformed an existing comprehensive high school to a STEM-focused model under his leadership; with these schools producing strong academic achievement results. The district was recently admitted into the national League of Innovative Schools for its success in using technology to improve student achievement.

Chris currently serves as the co-chair of the Denver Area School Superintendents Council. He serves