TOPEKA — Seven school districts in Kansas will serve as pilots for a new initiative that embodies the Kansas State Board of Education’s “Kansans Can” vision, state education officials announced on Tuesday.

Tammy Mitchell and Jay Scott, Kansas State Department of Education’s school redesign specialists, introduced the following districts that were chosen for the initiative to be named after the “Mercury 7” astronauts that will serve as models of innovation for the rest of the state’s districts:

• John Glenn - Coffeyville USD 445: Community Education School and Field Kindley Memorial High (with Roosevelt Middle School staff involved)

• Alan Shepard - Liberal USD 480: Meadowlark Elementary School and Liberal High School

• Wally Schirra - McPherson USD 418: Eisenhower Elementary School and McPherson Middle School

• Gordon Cooper - Olathe USD 233: Westview Elementary School and Santa Fe Trail Middle School

• Deke Slayton - Stockton USD 271: Stockton Grade School and Stockton High School

• Gus Grissom - Twin Valley USD 240: Tescott Elementary School and Bennington Junior-Senior High School

• Scott Carpenter - Wellington USD 353: Kennedy Elementary School and Wellington High School

Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson confirmed that he graduated from Coffeyville High School in 1977. He also served as superintendent of McPherson USD 418 from 2005 until he was appointed as the state’s education commissioner in 2014.

Watson said his connections to McPherson and Coffeyville weren’t factors in getting chosen among the first seven districts. He said he wasn’t part of the reviewing of 29 applications that were submitted, including one from Newton USD 373 where his wife, Debbie Watson, is an elementary school principal.

There was a selection committee of “outside partners,” Watson said, who helped Mitchell and Scott go through the applications individually and decide on their own which districts they wanted. He said the committee members then collectively decided which seven districts would be chosen based on their individual decisions.

Watson has previously said the winning districts are ones that have demonstrated they are going to be innovative in at least one of the five outcomes of the “Kansans Can” vision that make a successful high school graduate as it relates to social-emotional growth, kindergarten readiness, individual plans of study, high school graduation rates and postsecondary completion-attendance.

Each of the seven districts will have one elementary and either a middle or high school participate in the redesign pilot. As part of the application process, at least 80 percent of each of the schools’ certified staff had to approve to be part of the initiative along with approval from the district’s school board and teachers’ union.

Beginning later this month, each of the districts will begin getting consulting services from Mitchell and Scott in order to “launch” their redesigns for the 2018-19 school year and serve as model demostration sites for Kansas teachers and education officials.