“I’d never thought I’d walk into a school and go, ‘come over here and check out the laser!’”
Principal Brian Patrick seems genuinely amazed at his school, Willoughby-Eastlake School of Innovation (SOI). He grew up going to school in this district, currently lives in this district, and now has two children in the district.
SOI is housed in a former training center for the local Eaton Corporation. The school still carries an air of business, with large conference rooms, breakout collaboration spaces, and even a fully furnished boardroom. There, students get a taste of formal presentations by addressing partners, parents, and peers at the full-size conference table. “How could they be intimidated going forward?” Patrick asks. The presenters can be as young as seven years old, and he hopes to help every student become a confident presenter before they leave the building.
Patrick also emphasizes collaboration, both for students and their teachers. “Every middle school teacher has 85 or 90 minutes of collaboration time daily, with the whole team,” Patrick said, walking by three teachers working in a breakout room. “You can’t just have 30 minutes like we used to.” With consistent time together, teachers bridge the gaps between disciplines, and develop robust problem-based learning units.
In the middle of its third year, SOI serves 375 students, with 75 more enrolling each year. At capacity, SOI will serve 750 students across ten grades. All students come from within their district, with roughly 40% through lottery admission. The others are invited based on ability. “We’re kind of still building the airplane as it flies,” Patrick says with a laugh, “but it’s going in the right direction.”
We were almost lab rats,” Kellen, a founding student, said of his first year. He appreciates the individual attention in classes, especially when teachers respond to his interests. When he took to astronomy, a teacher “really tried to tune in.” Other students like the opportunity to lead tours around the school and participate in bigger problem-based learning units throughout the year, especially using equipment in the fab labs.
Patrick is setting a high bar for his students for graduation. “I want them to be a junior in college already,” he said, “I want them to be somebody who can take over a team and lead it, and not miss a beat.” On top of everything, he wants students to continue making confident choices for themselves.
“I would love to see our kids be able to go to a college, feel comfortable in their own skin, and be able to lead from whatever angle they want.”