What Can You Learn from Idaho? You May Be Surprised

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The Learning Counsel’s 2020 Digital Transition Discussion tour took the team to Boise, Idaho. The Boise-Nampa metropolitan area, also known as the Treasure Valley, includes five counties with a combined population of 709,845. While not the most populous area visited by the Learning Counsel this year, the wealth of ideas generated in the Treasure Valley could power this nation’s schools with ideas to spare.

A favorite part of the Digital Transition Discussion events is the afternoon panel discussion, a wide-ranging discussion held by the area’s top education leaders.

Dr. Sherawn Reberry is the new Superintendent of the Middleton School District in Idaho. As districts go, it’s not very large, with 4000 students and a teaching staff of around 180. But size (or lack thereof) does have its advantages. Being the leader of a district this size allows for a certain nimbleness, and politics and power grabs generally take a back seat to the needs of the learners. In the case of the Middleton School District, Reberry brings a vision for the future and there is little doubt that the district’s learners will be well-prepared for whatever comes next. “As we go beyond this digital age,” said Reberry, “we have to, as educators, help transform the way we view and deliver learning. We know that we're preparing students today for jobs that don't yet exist. I think it's important that we provide students with opportunities where they gain experience. And I think we do that through collaboration, through community, through creativity (and creative thinking) and through communication. Because all of those will open doors for students as they go down their paths, ultimately to their own job of tomorrow.”

Dr. Rich Moore is the Superintendent at Oneida School District, also in Idaho. It is actually smaller than Middleton, with just over 1100 students (1101 at last count), but it’s small student to teacher ratio and sharp focus on student success make it an idyllic world for its learners. It’s a 1:1 district, and Moore is careful to put the needs his learners above the glamour of technology for technology’s sake. At this Learning Counsel Digital Transition Discussion, Moore’s attendance was very much focused on what information he could bring back to help move his district forward, carefully and in the right direction for his learners. “I'm here today because I'm seeking answers,” said Moore. “I think we as educators are always looking for something that can make us better, to serve students more efficiently and effectively. Currently the high school at my district is chasing another pot of gold, feeling like maybe a schedule change (or something like that) will help us to reach out to the individual and differentiate better. I'm not convinced, So I came here. Knowing we are a 1:1 device district, how can I use those tools and move a little bit more effectively into the future. Meeting those individual needs, both academically and socially, is a challenge. I'm here to seek answers and I have really enjoyed what I've heard here today.”

Christopher Conant is the Professional Development Specialist at Idaho Digital Learning Alliance, which was created by the Idaho State Legislature and Idaho educators, and is recognized as a leader across the nation in online virtual education. Idaho Digital Learning Alliance was created to provide access, equity, and flexibility for students in the state of Idaho. When asked how he sees education transforming into an experience-based environment for learning, Conant said, “From my professional development standpoint and working with districts, it’s that personalization piece. That's what we've tried to break down. What are those key components? What are those pieces that really are the main ingredients in personalization? What is a consumable piece for the teachers that we work with in the trenches every day? What can make it consumable for them in personalizing education for their students? Whether it's growth mindset of their students, or even how to provide great feedback. It could be as simple as that. I'm really personalizing that education for students. I think we see that a lot as adults, whether it's going through a MOOC. We can do that as adults, why not give that opportunity for our students? There's Coursera, there’s Udemy, websites where we can learn what we want, when we want and really providing that to our students as well.”

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Sometimes, when you shake off the shackles of the big districts with their big-time politics and copious rolls of red tape, you can get to the simple truth of it all. In Idaho, just like in New York and Chicago and Miami, educators have one overarching goal – meet every student where he or she is and provide a singularly fantastic learning experience. In Idaho, the education leaders have a knack for getting to the good stuff – helping their learners with every resource at their disposal, using technology to do the heavy lifting so teachers can do what they do best – be human and help the kids learn. Without a doubt, you can learn something from these Idaho education leaders. Watch the video. Simplify. And as always, let’s put our kids first and create some magic in every way we can.

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