Innovations High: A Conversation with Dr. Kenneth Grover

Q&A   30 March 2017
By Dr. Kenneth Grover


[Learners] are no longer pushing back against the institution, teacher, and system. They are in control.

Dr. Kenneth Grover
Principal, Innovations Early College High School

Q. Did you always think working in education would be your career path? What about this work inspires you?

A. Initially, I did not envision working in education. I grew up on a farm and enjoyed working with my hands. However, during my youth I experienced, first hand, what can occur when one reaches out and provides a helping hand. This experience exposed me to the power of intervention and what can happen when one acts to help others. Paying it forward became my life mission and helping those who cannot help themselves, my passion. There is nothing more rewarding than helping others to achieve and reach their potential. Education is the medium that provides the access and opportunity to tap into the talent inherent in each child. Unfortunately, the current system created to provide an education was created to make widgets, not inspire human beings. As such, I acted to transform an ineffective system into one that honors agency, inspires dreams, and provides determined direction for every student.

This opportunity to inspire and influence the human mind is humbling. I am inspired by the opportunity and power to lead and guide students to use their agency to improve their knowledge and to bring richness and depth to their lives.

Q. Ever since you transformed the system of learning at IECHS, what kind of cultural shift have you seen? How have behaviors changed in learners and educators alike?

A. Through our transformation of education, we have witnessed a shift in teacher and student beliefs and practices.

For teachers, the shift allowed them to be teachers rather than behavior managers and attendance deputies. Teachers could now focus individually on student needs and employ their skill sets to reach a struggling learner, guide students as they discover knowledge, and inspire them to greatness. Teachers are no longer stuck in a structure that limited their creativity, ability to mentor students, and time to collaborate with other teachers in real time. Our teachers are now empowered with all the tools to properly diagnose and treat students with the appropriate levels of support and interventions at all levels of learning.

The culture shift for students allowed them to be free from the limitation-inducing protocols so systematically employed throughout the country. The shift of control from the institution to the student provides them with a sense of pride and ownership, which produces the successful outcomes we are witnessing.

Disruptive student behaviors have disappeared. The learners are in control of their education. This not only empowers students, it also reallocates their control (and dignity) into empowerment decisions that are in their best interests. They are no longer pushing back against the institution, teacher, and system. They are in control.



We need critical thinkers with skill sets to drive the next era of our country.

Dr. Kenneth Grover
Principal, Innovations Early College High School

Q. Why is learner agency important for your learners? How do they respond to taking ownership in their learning?

A. Students have responded with deep gratitude and happiness. They are so appreciative that they are treated as human beings with the capacity to guide their own lives. For some students this freedom can be intoxicating and so full of options that they struggle with the choices. As such, we provide a deprogramming structure that operates until they are ready to free flow. This deprogramming provides a “soft” structure of the traditional school model where students spend four weeks rotating through class meetings, much like they would do at a traditional school. As students rotate to these different classes, they feel less stressed because the “structure” is still in place, even though students are moving at individual paces within each classroom.

As students feel more and more comfortable with this environment, we then ease students into using their agency and reward them by allowing them more control of their education in that they choose, to a degree, where they want to work in the school, what courses to work on at any given time in the day, and the pace they are comfortable with.

Q. How do learners plan their days? How much is traditionally structured and how much is unique to the individual’s interests?

A. Learners plan their day/week/month based upon their goals. We provide an expectation of credit that should be earned each week, and they plan with their mentor how they will accomplish them. Structure is relative to the student. Some need more; others need less. For some students, they prefer working on only one subject at a time, so that once they have finished that course for the year, they can then move on to the next year course. Other students have lofty goals and aim to complete two years of credit in a year. Yet others, based upon academic gaps in their learning are able to engage in content at their level (35% of our incoming 9th grade students read at or below 6th grade) and gain confidence and competency in their areas of need and then accelerate to their grade level and beyond once the foundation has been completed.

Q. You’re a promoter of learners having a clear idea of their pathway beyond high school. Why is this important to you, and how do you ensure learners understand their options?

A. We need critical thinkers with skill sets to drive the next era of our country. Providing options and opportunities allows students to make very good decisions about their future, rather than being stuck in a quagmire of indecision in higher education where they are wading through meaningless hoop jumping. Learners are provided the opportunity, or agency, to decide the path they want to follow. Each student has a knowledge of the expectations of each option available to them—higher ed, industry certificates, etc. They are empowered with the knowledge and access needed to make the most efficient and effective decision for their future.



It is hard to be a prophet in your own land.

Dr. Kenneth Grover
Principal, Innovations Early College High School

Q. You have garnered interest in your model on a national level. Focusing on Utah, how have local districts responded to what’s happening at IECHS?

A. In Utah, the response has been moderately positive. It is hard to be a prophet in your own land. Additionally, a number of schools have the “good to great” problem and as such, do not have the urgency to improve. In the last three months, two bigger districts have seen the need and are now moving ahead with implementation steps.

I have the opportunity to work with a number of school districts throughout the country as they work to transform their schools to a personalized learning model. In working with them, I provide a framework that, when followed with fidelity, will produce similar outcomes to those our school has experienced over the last five years.

One school district comes to mind that took this on as a “whole” school effort, rather than as the “school within a school” approach that most schools follow. Union City High School in Union City, Oklahoma believes personalized learning is the future of education, and upon surveying parents and students, they found their community believed that as well. Their outcomes, to some degree, were better than ours as they were able to learn from our mistakes and success and transform accordingly.

Q. What do you hope to see in the next five years at IECHS and the other environments you’re working with?

A. I expect IECHS will continue to lead the nation and provide others with the courage and know-how to transform their schools. Our students will continue to demonstrate that agency is more powerful than control. I fully expect that over 500 schools within five years will be able to trace their success and sustainability to personalized learning directly back to the pioneering work we are doing here.

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