GSBA Leading Edge Award: Teaching & Learning

GSBA Leading Edge Award

Arts & Innovation Magnet Principal and ArtsNOW Regional Director Shawn Williams joined Superintendent McMichael and School Board members Jordan Raper, Beverly Kelley, and Lynn Stevens in accepting the award.

The Barrow County Board of Education was selected by the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) for the Leading Edge Award, which highlights school districts that are leading the way in ensuring students are competitive in an ever-changing global market. The Barrow County School Board was recognized for its innovative Teaching and Learning initiatives and was honored during the Georgia School Boards Association Annual Conference on December 3, 2021.

The nomination for the GSBA Leading Edge Award highlighted the innovative partnership with ArtsNOW in the creation of the Center for Innovative Teaching. When a new middle school opened in 2016, it created a Barrow BOLD opportunity on the old middle school campus. No longer a school, the campus provided a blank slate for flexibility, creativity, and innovation. BCSS collaborated with ArtsNOW to make a bold idea come to life.


ArtsNOW, a non-profit organization, first partnered with BCSS at one elementary school in 2008, which has since blossomed into a district-wide partnership. Our shared passion and commitment led us to collaboratively create a facility and programs that advance the core work and educational goals of both organizations.

ArtsNOW leads the way in reshaping education by integrating the arts into all subjects. At the core of ArtsNOW is their programming and support to integrate visual arts, music, dance, media arts, and drama into academic lessons, resulting in students’ ability to greatly improve their creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

The Center for Innovative Teaching (CFIT)

BCSS and ArtsNOW leaders realized the potential to use the former middle school building to develop an innovative space unhindered by traditional school building requirements and uses.

The Center for Innovative Teaching campus quickly became a flexible space to host district events including fine arts festivals, science & engineering fairs, and student showcases. The campus includes numerous creative spaces used by teachers and students daily.

Professional Residency Program

Traditional professional development takes the teacher out of the classroom (leaving students with a substitute teacher) and puts the burden on the teacher to implement new training methods afterward. The Professional Residency Program flipped this model by taking the teacher and her students offsite to learn together.

In the fall of 2017, the ArtsNOW pilot program launched its first cohort of teachers from fourth to eighth grade. Each teacher worked with ArtsNOW consultants to collaborate, plan, and implement instructional strategies that connect a specific art form with their content standards.

Then the teacher would bring her students with her to CFIT for two weeks to work side-by-side with the ArtsNOW consultant to learn the new arts-integrated instructional strategies while the students participated in the lessons. Teachers and their classes returned to CFIT eight times over the course of the year. To date, about 40 teachers and 2,000 students have participated in the Residency Program.

In the video below, you can hear directly from teachers in the Professional Residency Program and the impact it had on their teaching and their students’ success.

Arts & Innovation Magnet Program (AIM)

Due to the pilot’s overwhelming success, the Arts and Innovation Magnet program launched in the fall of 2018 with two fifth grade and two sixth grade classes to explore the impact of full-time arts-integrated learning. Now in its fourth year, AIM has grown to 192 sixth and seventh grade students currently attending the magnet program (with many more on the waiting list).

Support has been so strong for programming at the Center for Innovative Teaching that a group of parents advocated for improving the decades-old campus (that no longer receives state funding). From their efforts over the last two years, the Barrow Community Foundation has launched the first phase in a $13.5 million fundraising campaign to improve the campus facilities and expand the programming for the community.

In just five years, a vacant school building is on its way to being completely transformed into a revolutionary innovation center for our community. Now that’s Barrow BOLD.

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