Innovation Strand Sessions

Pennsylvania’s current charter school law clearly emphasizes that “at the heart of these tenets is the idea that Charter Schools will serve as laboratories of innovation on behalf of all Pennsylvania students.” PCPCS is proud to announce the addition of the Innovation Strand to our 2019 annual conference Building Pathways to Excellence. We invited innovative educators eager to share their brilliant ideas with schools from across Pennsylvania. PCPCS believes that sharing ideas between our charter schools is a key way to cultivate true innovation within education.

Each Innovation Strand session will consist of three 12 minute presentations followed by a 15 minute panel discussion. All sessions will take place in Keystone A.


Breakout 1: Thursday 10:00am-10:55am

The Importance of Asking “Why Not”
Presented by: Katie Barnett, Elementary School Teacher, Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School

As educators, we often become bogged down with what we “must” get done and what the data shows. We reflect on our practices as efficient or not, but do we often indulge our creativity and ask “why not” to new ideas?

World-Changing Innovators
Presented by: Nichole McAllen, Integration Teacher, Propel-Braddock Hill Elementary

Together, we can teach our students to become innovators; innovators that will change the world. We can give our students the tools they need to create the future they deserve!

Integrated Drone Education – Every Student Can Soar!
Presented by: Don Asplen, CEO, Achievement House Cyber Charter School

Learn how drone education offers countless opportunities to present engaging content in STEM, College and Career Readiness, Career and Tech Education, and cross-curricular projects while building 21st century skills. Immerse students in real-world, complex mission simulations to capitalize on students’ imagination. The decreasing costs of drones and its multifaceted capabilities make this cutting-edge technology accessible to all students and school budgets.


Breakout 3: Thursday, 2:15pm-3:10pm

Collaboration: The Key to Success
Presented by: Timothy Wendling, M.Ed, CEO, Capital Area School for the Arts, Amanda Rhinehart, Assistant Principal, Capital Area School for the Arts

Capital Area School for the Arts Charter School’s (CASA) Integrated Arts curriculum culminates each year with the students’ end-of-year performance known as CASALive! – the signature production for CASA students in all disciplines.  Each Wednesday, students from all six (6) arts disciplines collaborate to explore a theme that they have chosen for the school year.  The initiative encourages students to develop critical collaborative and problem-solving skills in the arts context, and in the process, develop an appreciation for each other’s chosen arts concentration.  Over the course of nine (9) months, approximately 100 students break into small groups reflecting CASA’s six (6) arts disciplines; dance, theatre, music, film and video, visual art, and creative writing – to discuss and create scenes, music, dance and dialogue that later develop into fully realized components of the CASALive! performance.  This proven method of teaching not only develops skills that all students need but it bolsters their academic performance as well.  CASA Charter School has seen tremendous academic growth and success over the past six years and the future looks exciting!

Hands-On Science in an Online Classroom!
Presented by: Cindy Willits, Middle School Teacher, Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School

How can you get your students to be hands-on with science in an online teaching environment? Get them involved, give them ownership, create science citizens from your students, and facilitate your lab projects like an interactive “cooking show!” Tips, best practices, collaborative ideas and actual science lab implementations will be showcased, discussed, and shared

JAG-PA: Helping Pennsylvania’s Youth Build the Nation’s Strongest Workforce
Presented by: Dr. Ruth B. Patterson, Program Manager; ASPIRA of PA, Olney Charter High School, Mr. James Thompson, Principal, Olney Charter High School, Mrs. Ebony Hatter, JAG Specialist, Olney Charter High School

JAG-PA’s mission is to help Pennsylvania Build the Nation’s Strongest Workforce by bridging the GAP between Classrooms and Careers. The JAG program teaches all the skills necessary for students to become college, career and workforce ready as well as meeting all of the requirement of the Future Ready PA Index’s College and Career Readiness indicator.


Breakout 5: Friday, 8:45am-9:40am

Success Is the Only Option: Building Systems of Quality Schools for All Students
Presented by: Dr. Ron Sofo, Former CEO, City Charter High School

Many people say public schools and school systems are “broken”. Not True! Most current public schools and school systems were never designed to maximize the probability of academic and post high school success for all students. Learn what it will take to re-imagine and redesign high quality and effective schools for all youth in the 21st century where “Success Is the Only Option”.

Teaching the Unexceptional
Presented by: Laura Afshari, Assistant Principal, Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School

Even “geniuses” floundered in school. So why are we so focused on their lifelong achievements over that which led them there? The struggle! It is really their character, curiosity, and stick-to-it-ness that yields the most useful information for educators on planning and delivering instruction. The struggle IS real, and it is also the key to unlocking kids’ potential.

Creating and Maintaining a “H-app-y” Culture in Your School
Presented by: Lauren Michener, Instructional Technology Coach, 21st Century Cyber Charter School

Adding a piece of technology into your classroom is easy, but fully integrating it to be a flawless part of the curriculum is the secret to an engaging and personalized learning environment for teachers and students. To create and maintain a culture where creativity is encouraged and risk-tasking is celebrated, it’s important to provide vetted apps and quality professional development. Join the Instructional Technology Coach at 21CCCS to learn about the best practices in place that have resulted in a true team approach to fostering successful students.


Breakout 7: Friday, 10:45-11:40

Cultivate Home and School Relationships
Presented by: Dr. Nancy Giagnacova, Director of Special Education, 21st Century Cyber Charter School

Empower your teachers and administrators to build effective relationships with their students and teachers through home visits. Learn about 21st Century Cyber Charter School’s home visits and community outreach pilot that resulted in increased graduation rates, increased student achievement and engagement, and increased retention.

“Community” becomes “unity” through sustained inquiry learning
Presented by: Tasha Harris, STEM Senior Lead Educator, ASPIRA of PA, Ryan Wolcott, Enrollment and Platform Coordinator of ABCCS of Aspira of PA

What is happening in your community?  What interests you? What can you explore with your family and friends?  What adventures  will you embark on? Community will become unity as you explore new worlds and become inspired through inquiry learning.

Using Video to Make Connections and to Build Community
Presented by: Diana Perney, Director of Onboarding & Professional Development, Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School

Do you want to make connections with your students? Build community? And reduce your workload? This presentation will provide a practical tools and tips on how to create a podcast.