MARION, N.Y. -- Marion is a rural community in Wayne County and home to some 700 students in the school district.

Nikki Miller, a graduate of Marion High, works as an administrator with the district.

"We've always been this great little school. It's just we have progressed as time has required us to progress," said Miller.

School leaders say in order for students to be successful, they need a 21st century education.

One project that has put them in the spotlight is an on-site solar farm that enables students to learn about electricity and renewable energy.

"Energy sources are changing just like the world is changing, and so here's a way where we were able to move forward, be forward-thinking," said Miller.

This forward-thinking recently resulted in the Marion School District joining the League of Innovative Schools. The national coalition was launched by a non-profit organization in 2011, and includes almost a hundred school districts in 33 states.

"It provides us validation that 'yes, you can be both the leader in growing future-ready students and be a leader in innovation and still hold onto those traditional values that are so dear to this community,'" said Don Bavis, Marion School superintendent.

Marion Central Schools was selected from a national pool of applicants. Some of the criteria included its leadership skills, proof of results and its innovative vision for learning.

"You implement, then you reflect on your success, and then you iterate or improve. You're in a constant cycle of reflection and iteration. If you're not doing that, you're not being innovative," said Bavis.

School leaders plan to continue with a culture of innovation. A road map that hangs on a classroom wall serves as a reminder of where the school has been—and where they need to be.

"We want to give them the best that they can be, while still being in their small town community that they don't have to leave and go somewhere else. They can get what they need here," said Miller.