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Applying F-L-I-P to Professional Development

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Applying F-L-I-P to Professional Development

Four tips to change the way you help your staff grow. By Kristin Daniels and Aaron Sams

Flipped learning has become all the buzz in progressive education circles. As it has become more popular, some educators have gone beyond the basics to create dynamic classrooms, while others are confused about what exactly flipped learning is and how to implement it correctly.

For flipped learning to be effective, it must have a solid foundation. It’s common to talk about the four pillars of flipped learning, concepts created to establish a universal language and reflect the best practices of effective flipped classrooms. Below, we examine these pillars and describe how to best use these methods with your staff.

Flexible Environment

Teacher expectations about professional development are changing. Access to digital content is allowing educators to push forward with their own curiosity and collaborate with like-minded peers. Just as a student needs the flexibility to learn in various locations, environments, and groupings, teachers need these options as they grow professionally. Do you need to summon the entire staff to the library or multipurpose room for the latest sit-and-get from your expert of the month, or can you allow some flexibility?

In addition to flexible spaces for learning, teachers need flexible times. Seat time and contact hours need to die a swift death. Outcomes and demonstration of learning are all that matter. Respect the professionalism of teachers by allowing them to determine when they can complete their PD. Technology integration coaches can provide time during the day to work with teachers (before or after school) in large or small group sessions. In addition, access to individualized coaching is critical.

Learning Culture

What makes certain companies enjoyable places to work? Many companies, like Google, which provides creative and social outlets for staff members, have a strong sense of corporate culture that promotes employee satisfaction. Similarly, William “Rob” Roberts, assistant superintendent, human resources, with California’s Hacienda La Puente school district, starts every meeting by enthusiastically celebrating school, student, and teacher successes and encouraging all to participate in the “awesomeness” of the school. Small but intentional decisions dramatically affect the culture of an institution and are essential in stimulating staff to want to grow and develop. Too often, professional development is something that is done to a teacher for the sake of compliance rather than something that is done by a teacher to be a “better part” of a great organization.

Intentional Content

The use of digital content in educational settings has been on the rise due to the increased access to entry-level video creation tools and cloud-based hosting options. As with a flipped classroom, the purpose of using intentional content in professional development is to shift instruction out of the whole-group setting and into the control of the adult learner, where time and pace can be adjusted to best suit the needs of the individual. By “flipping” your PD, you can provide teachers with access to various content that has been created or curated by district or school lead learners. Consequently, face-to-face time can be reserved for things like celebrating, discussing, or collaborating that are better accomplished when everyone is in the same room. This simple yet significant change sends a clear message regarding the desired professional culture: Take ownership of your professional growth, be respectful of time, and value time spent together.

If you decide to explore using digital content with your staff, consider the following:

Minimize barriers. Teachers are almost worse than students when it comes to doing work outside of designated seat time! It is critical that accessing materials is easy. Create a one-stop shop for teacher resources. Whether this is behind a password-protected LMS or a simple site designed to organize resources, create one place for them. Then send the resources link in an e-mail every time you want teachers to access a resource.

Provide variety. Exposeteachers to new ideas or best practices through a variety of digital content. Make sure to include resources from both within the district as well as from larger, reliable content providers. Maximizing the expertise of your existing staff will increase morale as well as the longevity of your organization. Include different types of resources: short videos, blog post, best-practices article, and so forth.

Professional Educator

Working as a successful teacher in an information-rich world requires continuous professional learning, especially learning about pedagogical models that take advantage of the opportunities we have due to common technology and access to information. In general, this has not been incorporated into the classroom. This is not to say, however, that teachers are not exploring opportunities and challenging themselves to redefine teaching and learning in this new world.

The professional educator pillar is centered around the personal and professional reflection that is required to make significant changes to our roles as educators. There is no better way to do this than to surround yourself with a strong and active professional learning network. Administrators have a great opportunity to create a growth mind-set culture with their staff, beginning with the modeling of their own professional learning through a PLN.

The flipped learning community is active and growing. Monday night #flipclass chats began in 2011 on Twitter and are still active today. The flipped social-learning community has grown from 2,500 educators in 2011 to more than 20,000 today. But feeling inspired and confident to tackle new ways of teaching and learning require serious discussion. The opportunity to network with forward-thinking educators happens at regional events and conferences, like FlipCon 2015 (flippedlearning.org/flipcon15), the Flipped Learning Network’s eighth annual conference. Bringing together teachers who are finding new and innovative ways to ensure student success, the conference boasts more than 100 sessions, from those focused on first-time flippers to others on higher education. There is something for everyone.

Kristin Daniels is the innovation coordinator for Cambridge-Isanti Schools in Cambridge, Minnesota, and a board member with the Flipped Learning Network.Aaron Sams is chair of the Flipped Learning Network and the founder of FlippedClass.com.

Applying F-L-I-P to Professional Development

AD5_web_flip1

Applying F-L-I-P to Professional Development

Four tips to change the way you help your staff grow. By Kristin Daniels and Aaron Sams

Flipped learning has become all the buzz in progressive education circles. As it has become more popular, some educators have gone beyond the basics to create dynamic classrooms, while others are confused about what exactly flipped learning is and how to implement it correctly.

For flipped learning to be effective, it must have a solid foundation. It’s common to talk about the four pillars of flipped learning, concepts created to establish a universal language and reflect the best practices of effective flipped classrooms. Below, we examine these pillars and describe how to best use these methods with your staff.

Flexible Environment

Teacher expectations about professional development are changing. Access to digital content is allowing educators to push forward with their own curiosity and collaborate with like-minded peers. Just as a student needs the flexibility to learn in various locations, environments, and groupings, teachers need these options as they grow professionally. Do you need to summon the entire staff to the library or multipurpose room for the latest sit-and-get from your expert of the month, or can you allow some flexibility?

In addition to flexible spaces for learning, teachers need flexible times. Seat time and contact hours need to die a swift death. Outcomes and demonstration of learning are all that matter. Respect the professionalism of teachers by allowing them to determine when they can complete their PD. Technology integration coaches can provide time during the day to work with teachers (before or after school) in large or small group sessions. In addition, access to individualized coaching is critical.

Learning Culture

What makes certain companies enjoyable places to work? Many companies, like Google, which provides creative and social outlets for staff members, have a strong sense of corporate culture that promotes employee satisfaction. Similarly, William “Rob” Roberts, assistant superintendent, human resources, with California’s Hacienda La Puente school district, starts every meeting by enthusiastically celebrating school, student, and teacher successes and encouraging all to participate in the “awesomeness” of the school. Small but intentional decisions dramatically affect the culture of an institution and are essential in stimulating staff to want to grow and develop. Too often, professional development is something that is done to a teacher for the sake of compliance rather than something that is done by a teacher to be a “better part” of a great organization.

Intentional Content

The use of digital content in educational settings has been on the rise due to the increased access to entry-level video creation tools and cloud-based hosting options. As with a flipped classroom, the purpose of using intentional content in professional development is to shift instruction out of the whole-group setting and into the control of the adult learner, where time and pace can be adjusted to best suit the needs of the individual. By “flipping” your PD, you can provide teachers with access to various content that has been created or curated by district or school lead learners. Consequently, face-to-face time can be reserved for things like celebrating, discussing, or collaborating that are better accomplished when everyone is in the same room. This simple yet significant change sends a clear message regarding the desired professional culture: Take ownership of your professional growth, be respectful of time, and value time spent together.

If you decide to explore using digital content with your staff, consider the following:

Minimize barriers. Teachers are almost worse than students when it comes to doing work outside of designated seat time! It is critical that accessing materials is easy. Create a one-stop shop for teacher resources. Whether this is behind a password-protected LMS or a simple site designed to organize resources, create one place for them. Then send the resources link in an e-mail every time you want teachers to access a resource.

Provide variety. Exposeteachers to new ideas or best practices through a variety of digital content. Make sure to include resources from both within the district as well as from larger, reliable content providers. Maximizing the expertise of your existing staff will increase morale as well as the longevity of your organization. Include different types of resources: short videos, blog post, best-practices article, and so forth.

Professional Educator

Working as a successful teacher in an information-rich world requires continuous professional learning, especially learning about pedagogical models that take advantage of the opportunities we have due to common technology and access to information. In general, this has not been incorporated into the classroom. This is not to say, however, that teachers are not exploring opportunities and challenging themselves to redefine teaching and learning in this new world.

The professional educator pillar is centered around the personal and professional reflection that is required to make significant changes to our roles as educators. There is no better way to do this than to surround yourself with a strong and active professional learning network. Administrators have a great opportunity to create a growth mind-set culture with their staff, beginning with the modeling of their own professional learning through a PLN.

The flipped learning community is active and growing. Monday night #flipclass chats began in 2011 on Twitter and are still active today. The flipped social-learning community has grown from 2,500 educators in 2011 to more than 20,000 today. But feeling inspired and confident to tackle new ways of teaching and learning require serious discussion. The opportunity to network with forward-thinking educators happens at regional events and conferences, like FlipCon 2015 (flippedlearning.org/flipcon15), the Flipped Learning Network’s eighth annual conference. Bringing together teachers who are finding new and innovative ways to ensure student success, the conference boasts more than 100 sessions, from those focused on first-time flippers to others on higher education. There is something for everyone.

Kristin Daniels is the innovation coordinator for Cambridge-Isanti Schools in Cambridge, Minnesota, and a board member with the Flipped Learning Network.Aaron Sams is chair of the Flipped Learning Network and the founder of FlippedClass.com.

Image: Tom McKenzie/AP

Ed-Tech Reboot

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Ed-Tech Reboot

Hardware glitches delay, but don’t derail, Guilford County’s $30 million plan to personalize learning. Here’s how the district recovered from an early setback.

By Dennis Pierce

In Lauren Smith’s sixth-grade math class in Greensboro, North Carolina, students who are ready to advance to a new topic aren’t held back by those who need more time. And students who need extra time to learn aren’t dragged ahead before they understand a concept.

Smith uses an app called Lensoo to create self-paced math lessons for her Jackson Middle School students. She records video lessons for each topic, and her students watch the videos, practice their skills, and take an assessment that shows whether they have mastered the content. While her students are completing these activities, she walks around the room, offering help and individual attention as needed. Students can also go back and watch the videos as many times as they want, and they can move on to various enrichment activities if they score high enough on the assessments.

“The kids are excited,” she says in a video about her new style of instruction. “They’re eager. They come in and they know exactly what they have to do.” And it seems to be paying off, with average test scores rising by an average of 10 percentage points in her classes. “When I gave them their tests back,” she proclaims, “I had kids’ jaws drop.”

Smith’s class is part of a new district-wide effort in the Guilford County Schools (GCS) to transform teaching and learning through personalized instruction, using tablet computers from Amplify. But the program almost never got off the ground.

Beset by early problems that included broken screens and melted chargers in the fall of 2013, Guilford County suspended its $30 million educational technology initiative just a few months in.

For most school districts, such a high-profile setback would have spelled the end of the program. But not Guilford County. “We believed in what we were doing,” says chief of staff Nora Carr, who notes that community support for the initiative’s goals remains high.

Determined to get it right, Guilford County officials worked with Amplify to make key changes to the program. Amplify found another manufacturer for its tablets and strengthened the devices’ screens. The company also agreed to place one support technician in each building during the program’s initial reboot.

As a result of these efforts, Guilford County is now moving forward again with its personalized learning program. This past fall, the district deployed more than 17,000 redesigned tablets to its middle school students, and teachers are in the early stages of reshaping their instruction.

Guilford County’s experience is a stark reminder that while integrating technology into instruction has its potential pitfalls, when a school district and its vendors are united by a common purpose, it’s possible to overcome these challenges to achieve real success.

Fostering Instructional Change

Funded by a $30 million Race to the Top grant in 2012, Guilford County’s PACE (Personalized Achievement, Curriculum, and Environment) program aims to personalize learning by providing a tablet computer to every middle school student, as well as training and support to staff, students, and their families.

“Kids are wired to want to learn,” says Robin Britt, director of PACE. “If we can get them working at their own level on something that interests them, then they will be engaged.”

To help teachers implement personalized learning, Guilford County assigns a PLC to each middle school. (Britt was a personalized learning coordinator (PLC) when the project began in 2013.) Each of the district’s PLCs is responsible for two schools.

“Essentially, personalized learning is a new buzz phrase for an old practice,” says Britt, who explains that personalized learning relies on “best practices that have evolved over the long history of education: everything from knowing your students’ interests…and how those influence their learning to doing a good job of assessing students along the way, so you know what they need to learn.”

Because personalized learning will look different in every classroom, Guilford County focused its training on identifying the practices that every teacher should integrate—and then exploring some of the possible strategies for achieving these.

“We want to see assessment happening all the time,” Britt says. “We want to see teachers moving from whole group instruction to differentiation and small group instruction—and from that to individualized learning, where every student is moving at his own pace.”

The training was an integral piece of the program, but what garnered the most attention were the tablets.

“It’s really an instructional change initiative, one piece of which is the integration of technology,” Britt says. “We’re trying to use [technology] as a lever to create instructional change in our middle schools.”

In mid-2013, Guilford County entered into a $16 million service contract with Amplify to provide the tablets. A key reason was that Amplify’s tablets come with a mobile device management system to make deployment easier.

“We wanted a turnkey solution, and Amplify offered that,” says Carr, Guilford’s chief of staff.

But just a few months into deployment, problems with the devices began to surface. Screens were cracking or chipping, and chargers were overheating. When a charger actually melted in a student’s home, it became a safety concern—and district officials decided to suspend the program immediately.

Addressing Problems Head On

When Guilford County suspended its tablet program in October 2013 district officials notified all middle school principals and parents, and they also held a press conference to announce their decision.

“Many districts might try to keep the news to themselves and hope it doesn’t get out,” Carr says. But transparency is one of Guilford County’s core values, and so district officials refused to hide from the news. “We just ripped the Band-Aid off,” Carr adds.

However, Guilford County leaders remained committed to the program and its goals, and they immediately began working with Amplify to explore remedies.

Amplify, too, had a vested interest in making sure the project was a success: Guilford County was the company’s largest and most visible customer.

“It was in everybody’s best interest to make this program work,” says Jill Wilson, general counsel for the district. She and Amplify executives worked “days and weekends” negotiating a solution that would enable the program to continue.

For starters, Amplify cut ties with its original tablet maker and chose another manufacturer. The company also insisted on the use of Corning Gorilla Glass, a more durable and damage-resistant material, for its tablet screens.

Amplify also agreed to reimburse Guilford County more than $850,000 for lost staff time, training, and other expenses incurred during the 2013-14 school year. To make up for that lost year, the company added another year to the end of its contract with the district at no additional charge.

“We owed that to the district,” says Justin Hamilton, former chief of staff for Amplify and founder of the public relations firm Justin Hamilton Solutions. “We wanted to make sure they got everything that was promised.”

Guilford County had planned to roll out the tablets in phases, but because of the lost year, this schedule was accelerated during the 2014-15 school year. To ensure a smooth transition, Amplify agreed to supply a support service employee at each of the schools receiving tablets for 90 days.

Throughout the negotiations, the district continued to keep the community informed. This transparency was a key factor in maintaining stakeholders’ trust and support.

Guilford County conducts a public opinion poll each year to learn what its stakeholders are thinking. “I thought our numbers would tank last year” after the district’s technology troubles, Carr says. In fact, they improved: Eighty-two percent of respondents said they thought the district was doing a good job—up from 80 percent in 2013.

Moving Forward

Having addressed the problems with its devices, Guilford County launched version 2.0 of the program this year. More than 17,000 redesigned tablets have been distributed to students and staff in waves over the first few months of the school year, and the district has seen far fewer technical problems.

Britt says the district’s focus this year has been on “regaining the trust of our teachers, acclimating to the technology, and developing the materials needed to create a more personalized approach to learning.”

Reaction from both teachers and community members has been positive so far.

“We cannot expect all kids to learn at the same pace and to be interested in all of the same things at the same time,” says Winston McGregor, executive director of the Guilford Education Alliance and the parent of a middle school student at GCS. “The tablets help provide for that personalized learning experience.”

As for having to pull back and then restart the program this year, McGregor says she thought the district handled the situation well.

“There was transparency and a lack of defensiveness on the part of the leadership,” she notes. “Staying committed to our goal allowed us to work through the tactical challenges of making the tablets work.”    

To help teachers use the devices to personalize learning, Guilford County is creating a video library of exemplary practices. One of these is the video of Smith describing how she creates self-paced math lessons for her classes.

“Every day, students log into our learning management system and they have three tasks to do,” she explains. “They watch a video that I’ve created in Lensoo with the day’s lesson, then they practice that skill in the online management system, which is graded immediately for automatic feedback. Finally, they complete a daily formative assessment so I can see how well they’ve mastered that concept.”

If students complete these tasks and they haven’t fallen behind the pace she has mapped out for the course, “they can use the extra class time to do some enrichment,” she says. This might include independent projects or additional math activities.

Why did she change her practice? Smith is sold on the district’s new approach, and one reason is the reaction of her students. “We need to change how we do work,” one student says in the video. With self-paced lessons, “we can rewind” the videos and watch them as many times as needed, he notes with enthusiasm.

“I have kids who never did much work before come to me on Friday and say, ‘Can I have extra [assignments] so I can get caught up and do more work over the weekend?’” she says in the video. “And I never thought that would come out of their mouths. That’s pretty encouraging to me.”

Dennis Pierce is a freelance writer who has been covering education and technology for nearly two decades. He can be reached at denniswpierce@gmail.com.

Credit: Courtesy of Guilford County Schools

Going 1:1, and Beyond

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Going 1:1, and Beyond

Mississippi district uses blended learning to create personalized learning for each student. By Lee Childress 

At Corinth School District in Mississippi, we embrace a shared mission: creating a world-class, 21st-century educational experience for all of our 2,650 students. While the meaning of a world-class, 21st-century education continues to evolve, we’ve come to realize that there remains a constant: technology. Students can’t develop the skills needed to succeed in college and career without the right tools.

With our mission in mind, at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, we launched a comprehensive initiative, “eMerge: Learning for the Future,” to coincide with rolling out a 1:1 initiative. Personalized, blended learning is at the heart of eMerge, though the strategic plan also involves a strong literacy component, early learning collaboration, and additional curriculum enhancements. The district’s ultimate goal is to create an engaging learning system that empowers students to both exceed academic standards in the short term and thrive in a global society in the long term.

Our district prides itself on a shared commitment to forward-thinking, interactive educational approaches. Four years ago, we embraced a pilot program that offered a more challenging international curriculum. eMerge is even more ambitious in scope. Digital literacy and global immersion are key indicators of a 21st-century education, and this initiative is dedicated to delivering those learning opportunities to students from PreK to 12th grade. Although 2014-15 was the inaugural year of our digital transition—a learning year for administrators, teachers, students, and parents alike—we’ve already experienced some of the wide-ranging benefits of blended learning.

Implementing a Solution 

eMerge officially began in fall 2014, but the initiative was the byproduct of a yearlong process of planning and discussion among administrators, teachers, students, and parents. Our district first unveiled the comprehensive plan in January of this year. Shortly after, we announced we would create a 1:1 environment to maximize eMerge’s potential.

With the groundwork in place, we focused on finding the best digital content and instructional tools for our students. We prioritized content that aligns with state and Common Core standards, offers personalized, real-time feedback through data, and is vetted by educators. After reviewing numerous digital content solutions, our district selected icurio, a tool that packages all of our priorities into a single, easy-to-use platform and crafts meaningful curricula. In addition, we were impressed by the high level of professional learning services provided by Knovation, makers of icurio, that guide teachers through the implementation of blended learning.  

However, securing digital content was just the start; our district also wanted to ensure that all students could easily access resources. We accomplished this through our 1:1 initiative, which provides an iPad to each PreK-2 student for classroom use and a MacBook to all students in grades 3-12. As a socioeconomically diverse district, we also recognized that some of our students would not have access to these devices at home. Thus, we allow older students to bring their MacBooks home, ensuring there’s not a digital divide inside or outside of the classroom.

Tips for Implementation  

Each school district is unique in its size, demographics, and resources, and each will undoubtedly face diverse challenges while implementing blended learning and 1:1 environments in the classroom. However, districts do share similarities in their structure and stakeholders, and I believe the following three steps are key for a smooth transition for any district.

  • First, districts should work to establish a shared vision among all stakeholders—educators, parents, business leaders, and the community at large. To achieve that, each stakeholder must understand the benefits of digital learning. It is the job of administrators to articulate those payoffs clearly, concisely, and engagingly. There is no shortage of research- and anecdotal-based evidence supporting blended learning; leaders just need to convey the evidence convincingly.  
  • Second, it’s imperative teachers and students are intimately involved in the selection of classroom technology. After all, they’re the ones interacting with these tools every day. The more that students and teachers feel involved throughout the process, the more invested they’ll be in the initiative and the more willing they’ll be to navigate new technologies.
  • Third, teacher-led committees should be in charge of selecting software and considering the software’s data component, which can be used to drive and change instruction in the classroom. Our teachers spearheaded the selection of icurio and remain intrigued by its ability to use data to assess students’ needs and design personalized curricula.   

Our Next Step

Corinth School District is already reaping the benefits of blended learning. Our students are accessing an unprecedented number of digital resources, gaining skills necessary to succeed in college and their careers, and applying their knowledge in innovative ways.

The next step of our digital conversion is to move past the initial learning curve. We’ve already seen significant progress in the use of technology by both students and teachers, as well as enhancement of learning. Now, our teachers are eager to harness real-time data to further personalize learning and optimize individual instruction.  

As we close the book on another school year, it’s hard to imagine a more rewarding one for our district. Transitioning to blended learning and 1:1 environments isn’t easy and doesn’t happen overnight, but it goes a long way in providing a 21st-century education for all.

Lee Childress is the superintendent of Corinth School District in Mississippi. Previously, he served as a classroom teacher in Clarksdale Public Schools and worked for the Mississippi Department of Education. During his current administration, Childress has led Corinth in a reorganization of school campuses and has overseen the construction of the new elementary school.

Image: Phil Whinnett/Media Bakery

Beating the Odds

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Beating the Odds

A small urban district overcomes a lack of funding to create innovative programs, strengthen its bond with teachers, and push student achievement forward. By Mark D. Benigni and Barbara A. Haeffner

Located directly between New York and Boston sits a small manufacturing city whose 60,000 citizens believe in their public schools and are searching for a new identity. More than 65 percent of Meriden’s 9,000 students come from minority backgrounds  and over 70 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The city’s increasing poverty rates and a decreasing tax base mean that the local school system has gone five years without a budget increase. Despite these hurdles, the Meriden Public Schools’ central office leadership team and 1,000-plus staff members have created new programs, infused technology into all schools, and partnered with foundations to boost learning for all students.

CREATING A UNIFYING VISION

Five years ago, a significant number of school leaders retired. Having to replace more than half of the central office leadership team in our 12-school district might seem daunting but this proved to be an opportunity. The new team—including the superintendent, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, assistant superintendent for personnel and staff development, pupil personnel director, and director of curriculum and instructional technology, the latter  a new position—took the opportunity to scrutinize  the district’s expenditures, initiatives, and guiding principles.

As leaders, we knew that if we were to fulfill our mission and invest in our students’ and staffs’ dreams we had to be fiscally creative. Meriden's per pupil expenditure is $13,051; this ranks Meriden 150 out of 166 districts for per pupil spending in Connecticut.

We believed that if we created a positive climate that challenged and supported students and staff, used timely student performance data to guide core instruction, intervention and enrichment, and elevated success through academic and climate indicators, we would create student-centered schools that students and staff would want to come every day and that could boast of  graduates who are college and career ready.

OVERCOMING A LACK OF FUNDING

Like many districts around the country, MPS faced challenges related to increased special education costs, a spotlight on teacher evaluations, and implementation of the Common Core State Standards. With the budget picture continuing to be bleak, the new leadership team, in collaboration with union leaders, held budget forums that centered on how to deal with these challenges while keeping students at the center of all decisions.

You would be hard pressed to find another school district in the state that received no local operating increase for five consecutive years. But you would also be challenged to find another district where collaboration is at the heart of all its work. Despite teachers and staff members receiving minimal or no salary increases, the relationship between union and management could not be stronger. Both sides have committed to being honest, transparent, informative, and collaborative. We provide our staff with high-quality professional development and numerous leadership opportunities. A symbol of the district's collaborative culture was evident when the Connecticut branch of the American Federation of Teachers, for the first time, presented the President’s Award to both Meriden’s teachers union president Erin Benham and Superintendent Mark Benigni.

The district committed to the following principles:

  • Reallocate and reuse.
  • If it’s not working, eliminate it.
  • Locate cost drivers.
  • Search for outside funding sources.
  • Build community support and partnerships.
  • Invest in staff.

These themes became the guiding principles as the district launched new initiatives to improve student and staff learning and embrace operational efficiencies. By scaling back on outside consultants and training teachers to provide professional development for staff, MPS not only saved valuable financial resources—we empowered our staff. A new textbook adoption strategy was created and all textbook purchases were carefully scrutinized and required to have online companion materials. Meriden currently spends less than $2,500 per school on library books; money saved is now spent buying digital resources. Lastly, the library model was changed to a technology-centered format. Reading specialists with significant experience using tech-based learning tools have replaced typical library positions.

THE INITIATIVES

To find and nurture the best educators, we established a comprehensive and coherent talent development system. Union and management created the Meriden Teachers Sharing Success team to recognize exemplary educators and provide support and growth opportunities for teachers. These team members included tenured teachers who had taught the same grade level for years and had led their students to substantial growth for four consecutive years. They opened their classrooms for peer visitations and reflected on what worked for them. We also created a true peer-to-peer coaching program with the support of the National School Reform Faculty.

Another initiative, the Meriden Public Schools’ Leadership Academy, is a one-year learning experience that includes targeted in-district professional development sessions on all facets of effective leadership, attendance at select conferences, shadowing opportunities, and the development of district leadership projects tied to school improvement plans.

This year, we also successfully launched the Teacher Development Program for aspiring educators. In the program, recently certified teachers participate in an authentic teaching experience while gaining valuable teaching experience in a dynamic urban school district. These staff members receive a stipend, specialized professional development, guaranteed teaching-position interviews, and opportunities to attend school trainings and district meetings.

STUDENT-CENTERED LEARNING

The district set the foundation for change. Students and staff enter Meriden Public Schools with access to mobile devices, digital content, personalized learning tools, and blended-learning classrooms—more important, perhaps, they are in an environment committed to greater student voice and choice. This shift, supported by the board of education, has transformed learning within the classrooms and extended learning outside the brick-and-mortar walls.

The district features K-12 BYOD (bring your own device) guidelines and both high schools operate as one-to-one digital environments (one of the elementary schools is now one-to-one). Students earn credits through their own designed learning experiences and there are “I’m Charged” classrooms across the district. These classrooms use technology to provide meaningful learning experiences for students, student-led opportunities, student collaboration, student choice, and a flexible learning path.

These efforts are being supported by structural and staff changes. Libraries have been converted to technology centers, and we have increased bandwidth and wireless access across the district. Technology integration specialists, personalized learning experience coordinators, student-centered learning coaches, and a blended learning supervisor have been added to support staff and students in the district’s digital transition.

So how did the Meriden Public schools fund this digital transition? By reallocating funds, we bought more than 5,000 devices for student use. Tablets or chromebooks are provided to each student at three schools, while numerous computers are spread throughout the district’s other nine schools. Device selection was based on student input and price points at the time of purchase. With the support of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, teachers received embedded professional development and training. The district knew that connectivity was the key and the device was just the tool to link their students to the digital community outside of their buildings.

Books and supporting curriculum materials were largely replaced with K-12 digital content. At the elementary level, students are now using myON, Imagine Learning, and ST Math. At the secondary level, Odysseyware, Discovery Education, and Moodle are leading the digital conversion. All students and staff access Google Apps for Education. The K-12 BYOD guidelines have received significant support from students, staff, parents, board of education members, and administrators. While students are allowed to bring their own devices, slightly more than 90 percent of Meriden’s students still accept a school-issued device. By going one-to-one at their high schools, Meriden assured that all students had a level playing field. Next year, the district will pilot a one-to-one program at one of our most economically challenged elementary schools. This initiative will be supported by a state School Improvement Grant.

MORE TIME FOR LEARNING

Today’s students need to learn more, and parents and governments are pushing America’s schools to meet higher standards. Teachers and educators often feel there is not enough time in the day to come close to meeting those demands—and they are right. MPS offers full-day kindergarten for all students, has increased after-school enrichment offerings, and has launched Saturday Academy Programs. In addition to providing credit recovery programs, community school models, and “anytime and anywhere” learning opportunities, we created three Expanded Learning Time schools.

Expanded Learning Time has had a most positive impact on the students, staff, and families who participate in the three neighborhood ELT public elementary schools. Improved attendance, increased academic outcomes, and enhanced school climates are the data indicators that confirm ELT is making a difference at MPS.

Meriden has created ELT schools where students participate in engaging hands-on and technology-based course offerings. Our educators and community partners teach to their passion and expertise while offering engaging enrichment activities, such as woodworking, scrapbooking, CrossFit Kids, karate, world cultures, rock climbing, broadcast club, and more.

The additional 100 minutes per day is used to support student enrichment and teacher collaboration. The enrichment activities are all tied to the core curriculum. For example, if students are studying the human body through the muscular and skeletal system in science class, the enrichment activities may include building and labeling skeletal models, as well as sharing which muscles they use during fitness activities. The key to successful ELT programs is ensuring that the additional time is not used for more of the same learning, but rather learning that extends and enhances the rigor that supports the core curriculum and helps students meet key standards.

The additional 100 minutes more per day also provides opportunities for digital content to be used to personalize the learning for all students. ELT is providing students with greater opportunities to build background knowledge, challenge themselves, and experience enrichment activities that too often have been stripped from the typical school day.

The school day has been re-engineered to meet the needs of staff and community members as well. Teachers now enjoy flexible workdays, with some working 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and others doing 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Community partners support certified staff during the morning and afternoon hours of the school day. Through collaborating, we feel we are building schools where both students and staff want to be.

THE BOTTOM LINE

By committing to working together and not allowing the confines of the budget deter them, students and staff have seen positive results. In 2010-11, the Meriden Public Schools had zero devices in the hands of students. Currently, more than 5,000 devices have been issued to students or made available for student use. This is the district's means of assuring equity and access for all.

On the latest state tests, the district achieved the highest scores in its history in grade 3 reading, grade 5 science, grade 6 math, grade 7 reading, and grade 8 reading and writing. The district’s school climate data were equally impressive. Since 2010-11, suspensions have decreased by 58 percent, expulsions are down 88 percent, and school-based arrests have been reduced by 77 percent.

The district has also seen improved attendance: K-8 is at 95 percent and grades 9-12 is at 90 percent. Hundreds of credits have been earned through personalized learning experiences and hundreds more credits have been earned through credit recovery. The high schools have seen a large increase in Advanced Placement and Early College Experience enrollment as more students are challenging themselves with rigorous coursework. The district also achieved a 10 percent increase in both students’ and teachers’ perceptions of a positive school climate.

Although efforts to support funding increases remain part of district leaders’ goals, significant efficiencies that help to better use funds have been created. The district has also successfully received highly competitive grants from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the American Federation of Teachers, the state of Connecticut, and the United States Department of Agriculture. Collaboration and innovation have helped rescue the Meriden Public Schools from significant budget challenges and have ensured that all students have the appropriate learning environment to prepare them for college and career success.

Mark D. Benigni is superintendent at Meriden Public Schools and co-chair of the Connecticut Association of Urban Superintendents (CAUS).

Barbara A. Haeffner is the director of curriculum and instructional technology at Meriden Public Schools.

Image: Mark Abramson

Radical Overhaul, One Step at a Time

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Radical Overhaul, One Step at a Time

Learn how this Pennsylvania district is ushering in personalized learning for each and every student. By Michael Snell

In their book Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning, Charles Schwahn and Beatrice McGarvey argue that creating a customized learning model for every learner is possible right now. By establishing higher expectations for students, shifting the roles of educators, and utilizing modern technologies, you can build a custom-fit school model that is effective and efficient, the authors argue.

Others take this a step further. Will Richardson contends in his book Why School? that we need to think deeply about the value of school now that opportunities for learning are exploding all around us. With the ubiquity of information, schools must fundamentally change to rethink how students are taught and address the new skills students need to succeed in the digital age.

At Central York School District in Pennsylvania, we use these concepts as the foundation and inspiration for providing our students with educational options tailored to their needs. Our vision—one in which students are empowered with voice and choice in their education—drives all of our decision-making. We provide a variety of instructional approaches, from classroom settings to blended learning to online courses. But the learning goals ultimately drive the instructional approach used for each student.

How does this work in reality? If a third-grade student needs fourth-grade math, fifth-grade reading, and second-grade science, they can receive those lessons through online or traditional methods, while remaining with their peers in third grade. Students move through the curriculum at their own pace rather than waiting for the next school year or being “left behind” in the traditional model.

Successfully transitioning from traditional schooling to an innovative approach requires a cultural transformation. We are encouraging our district’s leaders, teachers, parents, and students to overturn long-held beliefs about what school “should” look like and embrace a vision for a customized school that meets each of our learners at his or her readiness level.

Our journey to mass customized learning is far from over, but we have taken several steps—inspired by other educators or the authors referenced earlier in this article—that have brought us closer to realizing our vision. They include the following.

Establish a clear vision. It is critical that your stakeholders understand and can articulate your district’s vision for customization. Within our district, we engaged our staff, school board, and community members in book reads so that we could develop a shared understanding of the concepts behind mass customized learning. This helped us develop a common language for discussing changes ahead, and enabled us to craft a shared vision our stakeholders at all levels could articulate.

Reinvent the teacher’s role. We have replaced the term teacher with learning facilitator as a verbal cue that emphasizes the changing role of teachers in today’s public schools. Learning facilitators guide our students in their own learning, based on the student’s abilities and interests. The facilitator is also responsible for identifying learning needs and guiding students and parents in determining the best way to meet those needs. If an eighth grader is ready for high-school-level work, the student has the option of transitioning to high school by staying in eighth grade and pursuing advanced courses online or enrolling in a full-time virtual school. This allows the student to stay where they are socially and emotionally, while advancing intellectually. 

Invite parents to be a part of the process. We made concerted efforts to talk with parents at every opportunity—PTO meetings, eighth- and ninth-grade parent meetings, community meetings—to share the district’s vision. To get parent buy-in, we conveyed the vision in relatable terms, describing what the new model would look like and its benefits for their kids. For example, our principals spoke to parents about the college credits that would be available to their children and the opportunity for students to advance based on mastery rather than on age and grade level.

Our efforts to date have been very well-received by parents, and we continue to engage them in conversations about what mass customized learning will look like in our schools, and how it will benefit their child’s education.

Establish a practical plan. With a 42-person steering committee comprised of a cross-section of our district community, we laid out a detailed plan for curriculum, advancement, professional development, and more. However, the plan hinges on a phased approach, carefully engineering the introduction and expansion of customization across the district.

A key part of our district’s vision is to provide customized opportunities to explore interests that develop critical thinking and foster curiosity. One way we’ve applied this is to create a flex period at the end of the day for high schoolers to give them voice and choice on a daily basis. Students can decide what to do with that time, such as clubs or one-on-one time with a learning facilitator, but the district can also assign remediation if needed. We’ve started with a 33-minute flex period that we will expand next year.

Ensure a sustainable infrastructure is in place. We selected a flexible, customizable online curriculum provider to enable us to easily modify our programs based on students’ needs. Through Odysseyware, the district can offer blended learning programs, online courses, and a virtual school, as well as support our facilitators in adapting the online curriculum materials they use in their classrooms to localize lessons and address school and district learning goals.

Lead by example. All of us—administrators and learning facilitators—must show students how to learn by being learners ourselves. Our leadership team’s annual goals, including mine, shifted to include a focus on how we were taking action in support of our district-wide vision for mass customized learning. Together, we are learning new technologies and new approaches, and we are supporting one another through the process as facilitators and as learners.

Ongoing support and evolution is paramount. While a vision and a plan can be well intentioned, challenges pop up along the way that can derail the initial excitement and energy, particularly when confronting hundreds of years of traditional thinking. Districts must provide ongoing, job-embedded professional development to teachers to maintain enthusiasm, foster new ideas, and improve learning facilitation skills. We redefined our professional development approach to offer learning facilitators more voice and choice during in-service trainings, which enabled them to experience the value of customization that their learners will receive from their own classroom-based efforts.

There’s no “completion” date to this initiative. Technology has been a game-changer in transforming 120 years of the traditional education system and it will continue to evolve. We must be determined to adapt as information, technology, and the economy changes. But the need for customized learning and our dedication to ensuring every student succeeds will never change.

Michael Snell has been superintendent of Pennsylvania’s Central York School District since 2009. He blogs at www.cysdecosystem.com.

Image: Jim Craigmyle/Corbis/Media Bakery

The Parent’s Guide to Privacy Rights

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The Parent’s Guide to Privacy Rights

This new work is the perfect introduction to the myriad privacy concerns and questions that parents and students face in schools. By Brenda Leong

Data privacy is the issue of the day—not only in the broader society but also in our nation’s schools. As districts increasingly rely on technology to improve student-learning outcomes, collect and store electronic data for administrative efficiency, and provide online resources for students, many parents have expressed confusion about their rights to information that concerns their child’s privacy. 

In April, the Future of Privacy Forum worked with the National PTA and Connect Safely to produce A Parents’ Guide to Student Data Privacy in an effort to help parents understand current student-data privacy policies and protections under the law.

The guide provides straightforward, easy-to-understand explanations for who can access student data, what education companies can do with student information, and how federal laws protect student data. It also includes information about when parents can opt out of sharing their child's information, and how parents can gain access to, make corrections to, or request deletion of their child’s information.

Without question, the guide is both timely and much needed. For administrators, it’s a perfect way to introduce parents to the myriad privacy issues that can seem overwhelming.

Old Policies, New Technology

Consider that current student data laws were written in the years before student records were maintained electronically, and before much student learning and school administration were handled via third-party technology vendors.

Many stakeholders—including vendors, policymakers, and educators—believe these laws need to be updated, and there are numerous efforts at both the state and federal level to amend or rewrite them to more directly address the current state of education technology. 

Moreover, there has been an increase in the volume of national discussion about educational policies and practices generally—addressing everything from curriculum standards to testing—and student privacy has figured more and more prominently in these debates.

For these reasons, we felt this was the right time to step in to help explain to parents what their rights are to access and correct information about their child in the education ecosystem.

The foundational law regarding parental rights to a student’s education record is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), written in the 1970s to help parents access information held by the school about their children.

Most current education records are recorded electronically, and access rights must be understood in the context of information shared with third parties via learning management systems and online assessment programs. Our guide explains how, even though records are now maintained electronically, parents still have the right to use FERPA as a vehicle to view their child's information.

For children under 13, another law—the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)—places strict requirements on vendors whose sites or products gather information directly from children. Critically, before a website or service can collect that information, “verifiable parental consent” must be obtained, meaning a parent must expressly allow the child to provide the information. The Parents’ Guide explains how, in an educational setting, the school is authorized to provide that consent, but only for educational purposes.

In all cases where a school partners with outside companies to provide either learning tools or administrative programs, the school must maintain control and authority over all individual student data. With limited exceptions, such as to improve or develop their products, companies may only use the information for authorized educational purposes. Parents still retain the FERPA right to access the information (via the school), and the school can require the vendor to delete the data when the educational purpose is complete.

Opting Out

Another topic that has received substantial attention recently is “opting out.” In the context of privacy and student data, this means—for certain uses—parents may instruct the school not to share their child’s information. Schools are authorized to designate certain types of personal data (such as name, address, and telephone numbers) as “directory information” and share that information. Examples of this would be data given to yearbook companies, or information shared for school events such as stage productions, awards ceremonies, or sports teams. However, each year the school must first clearly tell parents what information it has included in this category, and must then give parents the chance to “opt out” of having it shared for these optional activities.

Finally, there may be times when parents disagree with the accuracy of something in their child’s record.  In such cases, parents have the right to request corrections, make an appeal if their request is denied, and file complaints or concerns about these rights with the appropriate government agency. The guide helpfully and in detailed form lays out a step-by-step process to help parents take these actions, specifying the federal laws governing this process and providing specific contact information.

The education system is evolving and transforming at a unmatched pace. Within that cycle of change, student data and its privacy implications play a central role. It’s understandable that parents feel a sense of detachment or anxiety about how these changes—in both policymaking as well as digital application—are impacting how information about their child’s education is being affected and protected. We developed this guide to address and answer these needs.

Of course, blueprints like ours only go so far, and they must be matched by an ongoing, proactive effort by parents to engage on this issue with their schools. It will also continue to be important for parents to collaborate with other key stakeholders—such as teachers, school administrators, and lawmakers at all levels of government—to ensure that student data and privacy remain at the forefront of any debate over education policy.

To get a free copy of the guide, visit ferpasherpa.org/parents-guide.html.

Brenda Leong is senior counsel and director of operations at the Future of Privacy Forum. She works on education technology industry standards and collaboration on privacy concerns and partners with parent and educator advocates for practical solutions to student-data privacy challenges.

Image: Ian Sanderson / Media Bakery

Shifting a School’s Culture

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Shifting a School’s Culture

One school’s turnaround began when officials stopped looking for bad behavior and started rewarding good deeds. By Dawn Love

In 2013, Lowery Elementary received an “F” grade from the state of Louisiana. Our rural, high-poverty school faces many issues, but one of our biggest challenges was student behavior and its impact on learning. When we looked at the number of minutes students were out of class for infractions or suspensions, we saw a strong correlation with whether or not those students passed our state assessments.

Another issue was communication among teachers. A child might get written up for their behavior in class after class, but teachers weren’t necessarily aware of what went on in other classes. We knew we needed to be more consistent and proactive, so we decided to overhaul the way we managed discipline school-wide.

Here’s what we found to be most effective in changing our school’s culture:

1. Create a behavioral Response to Intervention (RTI) program

In fall 2013, we launched a behavioral RTI program, in addition to our academic RTI program. To ensure consistency, we established the critical attributes of each tier, including specific interventions. For example, at Tier 1, we conduct behavioral goal setting with students each week. Students receive individual and class points, and a reward for meeting the goal. We have individual behavior plans for students who don’t meet the goal.

2. Track positive and negative behaviors

When we began tracking behavior, we focused more on giving marks for negative behaviors. Then we saw that the teachers who gave the most positive marks had the best classroom management. When we began rewarding students with points for positive behaviors, we saw our infractions decrease significantly, which created a big shift in our school culture.

3. Track and act upon behavioral data in real time

While we had a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program with a chart for each child that went from teacher to teacher, it would sometimes get lost, marked up, or thrown away. Now we use iPads in conjunction with an instructional management solution called Kickboard to track student behavior, along with academic data, in real time. This allows us to be much more proactive. If a student is having a bad day, we can intervene early—which might mean the difference between him or her getting suspended or staying in school that day.

4. Instill a sense of shared responsibility

Having behavioral data instantly available to teachers and administrators supports a sense of shared responsibility for students. Teachers feel like they have an extra layer of support, and no one feels alone.

5. Reward students

We reward students with points for exhibiting positive behaviors and character traits—even when they think no one is watching—which helps encourage self-monitoring. Students can redeem points for privileges, which include making school announcements, having lunch with me, or attending a Behavior Bash.

6. Collaborate in professional learning communities (PLC)

Teachers meet daily in PLCs to discuss student behavior, in addition to academics. We examine which classes are meeting behavioral goals, and this helps us to identify and share best practices.

7. Involve parents

If a student hits a threshold for negative behavior marks, it automatically triggers a call to the parent. Our next step is to provide access to behavioral information through an online portal.

We’re seeing many positive results from our efforts. From 2013 to 2014, we reduced the number of behavioral infractions by 29 percent, and students in grades 3-5 achieved gains on state assessments in English language arts, math, science, and social studies. We also raised our School Performance Score by 5.5 points, improved our school letter grade, and increased teacher retention. We now feel like we’re in this together and we all want everyone’s children to be successful.

Dawn Love is principal of Lowery Elementary School, part of Ascension Public Schools in Donaldsonville, Louisiana.

Image: Hero Images/Media Bakery

School Funding 101

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Funding 101

Why your school district needs a development office. By Stan Levenson

For school districts around the country, the well is going dry. Just as the job market demands more of our graduates, many districts are receiving less money than ever to educate our young people. But there is a solution—if we take the cue of state colleges and universities that have faced similar budget constraints.

These institutions have established development offices that raise millions of dollars each year, and districts and school foundations have much to learn from them. Fortunately, people interested in public education—including parents, teachers, administrators, and volunteers—are eager to learn and are beginning to implement changes in their districts.

Development Offices in Public School Districts

Development offices, staffed by experienced, competent people, can raise significant money, and we are seeing these offices pop up in K-12 districts across the country. The size varies—some have only volunteers or a single person; others, in larger districts, have full staffs—though most are small compared to college development offices. However, even small development offices can grow if school boards and foundation boards understand their value.

A number of school districts have development offices as part of their 501(c)(3) foundations. These offices vary in size and capability based upon the staff’s expertise and the financial resources of the community. School districts have discovered that once a development office is established and staffed by experienced, competent people, it takes about two years or less to become a profit center.

Staffing the Development Office

Depending on the district’s size, the development office might consist of one or more staff members wearing many hats. In a large-scale fundraising effort, the staff might be organized in the following way.

        Director of Development: Has overall responsibility for the district’s total fundraising effort. This         includes supervising the development office staff and serving as the liaison with schools and district         foundations. The director will have extensive fundraising experience at the school or district level.

        Coordinator of Corporate, Foundation, and Government Grants: Is responsible for prospect         research and works cooperatively with school site personnel, volunteers, and grant writers,         notifying them of available grants. The position requires grant writing experience, as well as         experience in working with corporate, foundation, and government funders.

        Director of Major Grants and Gifts: Is responsible for obtaining large grants and gifts from              individual donors and will be the key to opening funding doors to “angels” within your community.         The people who make large gifts to your cause—more than $50,000—will bring about positive         change within your school or district in the fastest and most significant way. Someone who has         extensive experience in both obtaining big gifts and training others to obtain them should fill this         key position.

        Grant Writers: Depending on your district’s size, having one or more full-time, experienced grant         writers is essential. In large urban school districts, a cadre of full-time grant writers is needed. To         recruit staff, try announcing these positions in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (philanthropy.com/),         a journal read by most people with experience in the field.

Your schools have many supporters. Millions of people have attended and graduated from public schools all across the country. These people have children and grandchildren in the schools. They want to give back to show their appreciation and support for the teachers, coaches, band directors, and others who influenced their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren. Learn how setting up a successful development office can help you identify, contact, and hopefully, gain donations from these people.

Development Office Information and Links

grantsandgiftsforschools.com

scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3746299

sagepub.com/booksProdDesc.nav?prodId=Book229352

Stan Levenson is an educator and author. His new book,The Essential Fundraising Guide for K-12 Schools: A 1-Hour Book With More Than 350 Links, is available on amazon.com and elsewhere. His website is stanlevenson.com, or follow him on Twitter @StanLevenson.

Home Connection

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Home Connection

The contribution of Sprint to ConnectED has helped 400 students in this Illinois district bring high-speed Internet access to their homes. 
By Carol Patton

Sponsored Section

For several years, three educators from Elk Grove High School in Illinois met regularly with families living in local mobile home parks to provide parents with progress reports on their children. The meetings were necessary because the mobile home parks lacked Internet access, a situation that presented multiple problems for Township High School District 214, where the 2,000-student school is located.

Parents couldn’t log on to school websites for progress reports or to learn about school accomplishments, initiatives, or staff and operational changes. Students couldn’t use their iPads, which were distributed by the district, to complete online homework assignments, seek online help from teachers, or engage in chat sessions with other students. And many of these families couldn’t access the local library, which offered WiFi, because the parks were in an unincorporated area and were not eligible for city services, including library privileges.

The district searched for solutions. “We were looking at shooting a wireless signal over to a couple of mobile home parks,” recalls Keith Bockwoldt, District 214’s director of technology services. “That was going to cost $2.1 million alone. That wouldn’t even cover the needs of other schools in the district.”

Establishing off-campus Internet connections is a common problem for many districts, especially those in rural areas. According to federal government statistics, fewer than 30 percent of American schools have the broadband needed to teach with technology in the classroom. The average school has the same connectivity as the average American home but serves 200 times as many users. And less than 20 percent of educators say their school’s Internet connection meets their needs.

In 2013, President Obama announced ConnectED, an initiative designed to enable next-generation broadband and high-speed wireless access in 99 percent of schools and libraries by 2018. But to reach this goal, help was needed from the nation’s biggest telecommunication leaders. At least 10 companies signed up, including Sprint, all committed to education and bridging the digital divide. Collectively, they pledged to connect more than 20 million students during the next five years.

District 214 superintendent David Schuler says the work Sprint is doing with ConnectED is helping his district make real progress toward transitioning to a digital curriculum and reducing student achievement gaps. With 33 percent of his district’s 12,000 students falling below the poverty line, says Schuler, the program ensures that all students have Internet access to study, communicate, and collaborate after school.

“The biggest challenge we faced was how to transition to a digital curriculum without all students being able to access those resources outside of school,” explains Schuler. “We’re very thankful and appreciative to Sprint and others in the private sector for partnering with schools. Those partnerships are absolutely critical for our students to be able to learn and be on an even playing field.”

Equal Access, Equal Opportunity

For the past two years, Sprint has been working to provide 50,000 lines of service to schools for Internet connections, along with four years of free Sprint Spark™ (LTE 2.5) service, its highest-speed and highest-capacity network. Jim Spillane, director of Sprint’s ConnectED Initiative, says the company is working with 33 school districts nationwide, each in various stages of the federal grant approval process.

“Our goal is to get everyone up and running by this August,” he says, adding that the company is about halfway there. “We’ll continue to work with as many schools as possible and promote this until we get the 50,000 lines. At Sprint, we do good works because good does indeed work. That’s why we support ConnectED as part of our Sprint Good Works platform.”  

Spillane says schools can apply online for grants at sprint.com/ConnectED. In the case of District 214, it bought 400 MiFi hotspots from Sprint at cost and then assigned the devices to students for home Internet access.

So far, says Spillane, the company’s biggest challenge has been generating program awareness. Many school administrators at conferences he attends are familiar with ConnectED but unclear about its direct benefits or advantages for teachers and students.

Going Digital

Starting in 2009, District 214 introduced a series of changes that would transform learning for its 800 teachers and 12,000 students. The district redesigned its classroom instructional materials and implemented a policy requiring teachers to first review digital resources before purchasing textbooks, says Bockwoldt. English and math teachers participated in professional learning communities and developed their own digital curriculums. Each year, teachers were asked to submit pilot proposals outlining how they would use technology to enhance classroom learning—the number of proposals jumped from nine in 2010 to 39 last year.

The district has also distributed iPads to 9,000 students, with plans to equip every student with a mobile device by 2017. Funding for the mobile devices involved a budget shift, explains Bockwoldt. The district is reducing the size of its computer labs, which now contain 6,300 computers; instead of spending money to replace them, it’s using those funds for mobile devices.

“As we moved ahead, we were able to grow capacity and show achievement rates,” Bockwoldt says. “In freshman math, a non-iPad class had an 88 percent [passing] rate, which means students had an A, B, or C, and 12 percent had Ds or Fs. In an iPad class, that shot up to a 93 percent success rate. It’s now 100 percent.”

Is that improvement due to the device or the teachers? Bockwoldt credits both. While technology certainly engages students, he says teaching has dramatically changed. Teachers and students can communicate off campus in real time. Students are crowdsourcing with one another as they work through homework assignments. Just as important, learning has become a continuous process, both on and off campus.

And those students in mobile home parks and elsewhere who initially couldn’t take part in the district’s digital transformation? That gap was filled last year when District 214 received a grant from Sprint, providing nearly 4 percent of its student population with Internet connectivity in their homes.

“Sprint [and the district teamed up to] provide approximately 400 MiFi hotspots for students who didn’t have Internet access at home,” Bockwoldt says, referring to routers that provide mobile Internet access. Sprint then provided the families with four years of free ultra-high-speed Sprint Spark™ services. Without Internet connectivity, these students had to complete their homework at stores or other places that have WiFi, Bockwoldt adds. Now, all students can learn at their own pace, on their own time.

Many take advantage of that flexibility. Based on data pulled from the district’s management learning system, some students log in at two o’clock in the morning to submit assignments.

“I feel really good knowing we are closing this gap for students who can’t afford [connectivity] and giving them the same opportunity to go home, learn, do their homework, and submit it just like any other student,” says Bockwoldt.

Custom-Made Learning

Linda Ashida is an innovative technology facilitator (ITF) at Elk Grove High School. Having Internet connectivity, she says, offers choice.

Consider the English teacher who has both struggling and advanced readers in his class, or the math teacher with a small number of students who didn’t perform well on a test. With Internet resources, Ashida says, there are many ways these teachers can organize student learning and respond to each student’s unique needs. For instance, they might offer afterschool help by providing review sessions on iPads, inviting students to jump in and collaborate.

“We’re able to personalize and differentiate learning,” she says. “We also let students use social media to share their learning and gain authentic audiences. We have students who write blogs and tweet about their class work.”

For incoming freshman, the district offers a two-day orientation at the beginning of each school year. Students are divided into roughly 20 groups, each facilitated by a teacher. During the orientation, each group participates in seven or eight workshops that focus on a wide range of topics, such as learning with technology, digital citizenship, and communicating via e-mail.

Ashida, who taught AP Spanish for several years before moving into her current position, says she noticed improvement among her students the first year they started using iPads. Learning with technology enhanced student engagement and ownership, encouraged more content creation and self-direction, and increased the student pass rate by 11 percent, she says. The district requires teachers to complete a blended graduate course that consists of online instruction and classroom sessions. Offered by Quincy University, the course was designed by the district’s teachers and focuses on developing iPad lessons for the classroom.

In her current role, Ashida, along with other ITFs and four district coaches, helps teachers implement and take advantage of technology in various ways. She and her colleagues offer classroom observations, conduct drop-in workshops, coordinate teacher-led sessions, provide technology demonstrations, and share best practices on Twitter and via a district blog.

With the involvement of Sprint through ConnectED, says Ashida, students without Internet access at home no longer have to jump through hoops to get their work done. One student, she says, had to write papers on her cell phone and another could access her neighbor’s WiFi but had to sit outside his house at night in an unsafe neighborhood to complete her homework.

“Even though we gave students iPads, they weren’t able to fully use them,” she says. “Sprint is making all of this transformative learning available to each and every student in our district, which is huge and very exciting.”

The iPad’s Impact on Learning
District 214 has charted students’ progress since providing them with iPads beginning in the 2012-13 school year. Here are percentage increases for students earning at least a C in intermediate algebra.

2011-12 (non-iPad)   60%
2012-13                     93%
2013-14                     92%
2014-15                     92%

For more information about Sprint and ConnectED, and to apply online for grants, visit sprint.com/ConnectED

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.