Learning Counsel Awards Top Districts

Spotlight
The Learning Counsel Recognized Top Districts and Schools in the U.S. at Their Annual National Gathering
By: 
Cebron Walker

At the Learning Counsel’s Annual National Gathering and Awards event, ten leading districts and schools were recognized for their work to integrate digital curriculum and technology into their teaching and learning process. The presentations were done in front of top education executives from around the U.S. who gathered to acknowledge exemplary progress and to further discuss how innovation, technology and even architectural design could be utilized to push the education envelope—all in the name of better outcomes for our youth.

“In this increasingly global economy, it is so important to embrace a digital curriculum that will educate tomorrow’s leaders and promote equality in education,” said Dr. David Kafitz, Vice President of School Relationships & Consulting with the Learning Counsel. “Each of our award recipients this year have lead in integrating technology into their curriculum in a way that will transform the way we teach our young people. We look forward to seeing how their work will inspire other districts to use digital curriculum and technology to their advantage.”

The ten recipients of the Learning Counsel Digital Curriculum & Content Strategy Award this year included:

- Township High School District 214 in Illinois
Township HSD has developed what is truly a model curriculum adoption process that makes digital curriculum and content the priority. A strong professional development program for its teachers has played a critical role in a high adoption rate of digital curriculum and content amongst its faculty. Student performance data confirms their program is working with positive student achievement gains.

- Union County Public Schools in North Carolina
Union County Public Schools led by Dr. Mary Ellis has the largest 1:1 digital learning program in the state. With the expansion of 1-to-1 into grades 3 through 5, there are now over 34,000 Chromebooks in the hands of students from grades 3 through 12. Union County’s initiative has focused on the professional development of teachers in order to provide students with a personalized learning experience in order to increase student motivation. They refer to this as the “My Size Fits Me” learning culture. This focus on instruction and student engagement has led to one of North Carolina’s highest cohort graduation rates, exceeding 93% in the last school year.

- St. Vrain Valley Schools in Colorado
In their second year of their 1-to-1 initiative, St. Vrain Valley Schools has demonstrated strong commitment to the transition by applying for and being selected for a federal Race-to-the-Top and Investing in Innovation (i3) grants, both focused on innovation in education and instructional practice. Teachers have access to professional development courses that focus on technology integration and 21st Century skills through online courses, small group discussions, mentorship opportunities and week-long iPad learning camps

- Pinellas County Schools in Florida
A leader in education innovation in the state of Florida, Pinellas has received support for its work from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is being recognized for several digital initiatives, including Beyond The Classroom, which provides online educational resources for students; Connect for Success, which provides take-home laptops for students in Title 1 elementary schools; and Pinellas Innovates, the district’s plan for personalize learning.

- Coachella Valley Unified School District in California
Serving an extremely diverse geographic area in the desert region of South Eastern California, Coachella Valley Unified School District overcame poor community infrastructure and socio-economic challenges to give students access to the Internet. They took very creative steps to ensure all students could be connected on and off school campuses including Wi-Fi on buses and then parking those buses in neighborhoods after school hours to supply Wi-Fi to homes.

- Newark Public School District in New Jersey
In addition to significant investment in infrastructure over the past several years, Newark Public Schools has provided turn-key professional development in all schools and embedded guidance within core content subject curricular documents. Also, seven schools are part of a digital transformation pilot project referred to as the Lighthouse Initiative. This initiative focuses on extensive work with the school's leadership team to support their objectives leveraging technology to specifically accelerate digital learning, enhance school operations and facilitate outreach to stakeholders.

- Shelby County Schools in Tennessee
In 2014 Shelby County Schools embarked on the journey of piloting 18 Blended Learning sites in a mix of elementary, middle, K8 and high schools. In these Blended Learning Site awarded schools they infused engaging digital curriculum for ELA and Math with student and teacher devices that allow laptop and tablet usage in one unit. The office of virtual learning also heads up and manages the state's largest public school district Virtual School—Memphis Virtual School, serving students for over seven years.

- Coalinga-Huron Unified School District in California
In the last two years, Coalinga-Huron, a small district in rural central California, has started the work of transitioning to the introduction and use of digital curriculum and content. Working through the process of selection, procurement, deployment and professional development, Coalinga –Huron is working towards device deployment for a 1-to-1 learning environment for its students.

- Renton Preparatory Academy in Washington State
A private school in the greater Seattle metropolitan area, Renton Preparatory Academy serves a very diverse student population. Focused on the use of blended learning instructional strategy for the delivery of learning to students within a 1-to-1 initiative, Renton students have seen great academic success both in and out of the classroom. Recognized as a Microsoft Showcase School, this school is constantly seeking new and innovative ways to incorporate the technology into the lives of their students.

And the State award this year went to the State of New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of Innovation. The Director of the Office of Innovation, Ms. Takecia Saylor, was brought into the event via skype to receive the award and be acknowledge by all in attendance for outstanding leadership and innovation efforts. Through the creation of its InnovateNJ program, the Office of Innovation is championing the need for change in public schools for better education outcomes for its students. Their work with districts to promote partnerships and collaborative efforts to bring about innovation is admirable and inspiring.

In the words of one recipient, “We are excited to be recognized for the work we have done to meaningfully infuse technology into our curriculum to help enhance learning for school children across Newark,” said Joshua Koen, Special Assistant for Technology at Newark Public Schools. “We are committed to using technology successfully to ensure it is helping our young people receive a more well-rounded, 21st Century education.”

The Learning Counsel organized the National Gathering event to honor schools and districts doing great work and to give a chance for peers to network with others doing similar work and experiencing similar growth issues. “There are some great schools and districts who work incredibly hard for our youth and they tend to go underappreciated,” stated LeiLani Cauthen, CEO and Publisher at the Learning Counsel. “We created this event with two purposes in mind: to honor those who should be acknowledged and also to bring executives together from both the education and publishing sides to share solutions to the problems before us all. We know it’s confusing and difficult to make important curriculum and technology decisions and so we create this time to share best practices and have those important discussions.”

“An event like this doesn’t have hundreds or even thousands of people like some others I’ve attended—it’s intimate enough for you to meet the right people and build lasting relationships with peers as well as companies who you need to have conversations with,” stated Mr. Cleon Franklin, Director of Virtual Learning of Shelby County Schools. “You leave here with things you can implement as soon as you hit the office.”

The Learning Counsel is a mission based organization focused on helping education professionals in the K-12 sector gain context on the shift to digital curriculum. Serving as an intermediary between schools, curriculum publishers and high tech companies, the Learning Counsel provides perspective and organizational tools on the transition to digital for school systems across the country.

Twenty-five years in the trenches of news media and marketing. As Editor at the Learning Counsel, Cebron lives in the “eye of the storm” in this rapidly transforming space, reporting on leading schools, innovative administrators and industry which are shaping the future of teaching and learning.