Leading Teaching and Learning in Today’s World
By Eileen Belastock
The 2021 Driving K-12 Innovation report released by CoSN selected the most critical Hurdles (challenges), Accelerators (mega-trends), and Tech Enablers (tools) that school districts are facing with personalized learning, innovation, and digital equity. In a recent edWebinar, sponsored by ClassLink and co-hosted by CoSN and AASA, education leaders reflected on the challenges of the past year and the possibilities of the upcoming school year.
According to the CoSN report, the standard definition of hurdles is a roadblock that forces schools to slow down, prepare themselves, and then make the leap. When asked about the hurdles that happened due to schools closing on March 13th, 2020, all four presenters agreed that broadband, not devices, challenged their districts to provide equitable access to learning no matter their districts’ geographic location or demographics. Dr. Carol Kelley, Superintendent of Oak Park Elementary District 97 (IL), stated, “We were not as prepared as we could have been to have made that shift in terms of our practices and pedagogy.” Director of Schools for Wilson County Schools (TN), Dr. Donna Wright’s hurdles included broadband issues and a tornado that hit the area two weeks before closing schools. “We were almost stunned into paralysis, which is a hurdle in itself, but then it became an urgency as far as what do we need to do next.”
As defined by the CoSN report, accelerators are megatrends that drive change. In Maury County Public Schools (TN), former Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chris Marczak said, “As we had to hit the brakes on many things, parents demanded that their children continue learning, which is understandable from a public K through 12 sector. So, we had to think on our toes about what we would do throughout those next couple of months to hit the needs of our parents while still dealing with the hurdles.” In Wilson County, they focused on students by understanding them intimately and identifying their strengths before determining their needs. In Township High School District 214 (IL), where Dr. David Schuler is Superintendent, they doubled down on how to personalize the pathway for every child and enhance the student voice and student choice.
A question put to all the presenters by Ann McMullan, Project Director of CoSN’s EmpowerED Superintendent Initiative, was, “Were there pieces of technology that you had in place already that enabled you to grease the wheels so that you could surmount the challenges that you were facing?” Echoed by all four presenters, Dr. Schuler described how his district outfitted parking lots with internet and WiFi for students who could not access WiFi at home. His district also ensured that apartment complexes and mobile home parks could access WiFi with overnight placements of minibuses with hotspots. Dr. Wright’s district created a parent university that provided opportunities for parents to understand what their children would be experiencing and how they could support learning at home. Dr. Kelley stated her tech enablers included her amazing technology team that was instrumental in supporting technology during the transition to online learning. Finally, Dr. Marczak focused on the demand and need for a consistent and transparent parent community by launching a Facebook Live and Periscope blast to talk directly to parents and community members about what was going on in the schools.
Frankie Jackson, Independent K-12 Chief Technology Officer in Texas, highlighted the efforts by CoSN and the fact that all discussions by the advisory board regarding innovation in K-12 have happened over the last year. Personalization and digital collaborative environments identified in the fall of 2019 have accelerated due to the pandemic. When asked about which lens her district was looking through for the upcoming school year, Dr. Kelley reflected that tech enablers and system thinking would drive the following year. “The district is leveraging my departure as an opportunity to help the community come together to envision, build, and prioritize what they see as the future of learning,” Dr. Marczak stated. “We realized in the Department of Defense that we couldn’t go back to the way things were before March 13th of 2020. The world has changed. It is going to be different moving forward. So, we’ve worked hard on that cooperation around using tech to enable the work we’re doing moving ahead.”
Dr. Schuler said, “We’re excited about how we’re planning to accelerate the rate of learning for all of our students thinking through a school community lens. In addition, we are looking to bring in more supports through our ESSER dollars. The supports include providing more social work outreach to families and thinking through what trauma our students and staff may have experienced this year.” While at the same time, his district is also accelerating personalizing learning environments for every child to ensure that they have access to early college credit. Dr. Wright stated that it would have to be the accelerator because that is something that we stumbled into by accident. “With the virtual option that we built overnight, we were ready for remote and other small or short-term experiences.” Still, the virtual program has seen children thrive who failed in a brick-and-mortar classroom so that personalization became even more critical. McMullan concluded the presentation by stating, “What I see as an accelerator for all four of you is your incredible leadership. In the last year, we have learned that leadership does matter, and exemplary leadership and good leadership are what will drive this forward. The four of you are exemplars of the power of good leadership, which is an accelerator.”
About the Presenters
Dr. Carol Kelley
Prior to joining Oak Park Elementary District 97 in Illinois, Dr. Carol Kelley spent three years as the superintendent of schools for the Branchburg Township School District in New Jersey. Before that, she served as the director for curriculum and instruction for Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey for three years. She was also a middle school teacher and principal in New Jersey for a number of years.
Dr. Kelley is an exemplary superintendent who received her bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania. She also holds an MBA from the University of Virginia. She has more than 25 years of progressive experience in K-12 educational settings with a background highlighted by professional training and achievement in the areas of education, product, and service management. Mastery knowledge of evidence-based instructional practices with a demonstrated ability for building collaborative relationships to support teachers and administrators in raising student achievement are areas of focus. Dr. Kelley is deeply committed to playing a critical role in improving the academic and social success of ALL students. Dr. Kelley currently serves on the CoSN Superintendent Advisory Panel.
Dr. Schuler has served 21 years as a superintendent, 16 of them currently leading High School District 214, Illinois’ largest high school district. There, he led the development of an innovative instructional philosophy around personalized learning experiences focused on career pathways, early college credit, and industry credentials that enable students to discover their futures while still in high school. Dr. Schuler earned his bachelor’s degree from Carroll University and his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Ann McMullan is Project Director for CoSN’s EmpowerED Superintendents Initiative. Ann served as Executive Director for Educational Technology in Klein ISD, near Houston, Texas until September 2013, when she and her family moved to Los Angeles, California. For 16 years Ann led the district team that provided professional development on technology and 21st century instructional strategies to 4,000 educators serving 50,000 students. She was co-chair of the Texas Education Technology Advisory Committee which developed the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology.
Today, Ann works as a public speaker, writer, and education consultant focused on leadership to meet the needs of today’s students. Ann serves on the edWeb.net Advisory Board, ClassLink’s Senior Advisors Group, and is a founding member of ERDI’s Alliance for Education Impact Advisory Council. She also volunteers as a leadership consultant with Executive Service Corps of Southern California, serving non-profit associations. Ann is the co-author of Life Lessons in Leadership, available on Amazon.com.
CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking) is the premier professional association for school system technology leaders. CoSN provides thought leadership resources, community, best practices and advocacy tools to help leaders succeed in the digital transformation. CoSN represents over 13 million students in school districts nationwide and continues to grow as a powerful and influential voice in K-12 education.
ClassLink empowers your students and teachers with instant access to their learning resources. ClassLink® OneClick® includes a library of over 5,000 single sign-on apps and instant links to file folders at school and on Google, Office 365, and Dropbox cloud drives. ClassLink Roster Server easily and securely delivers class rosters to any publisher using open technology standards. ClassLink Analytics gives decision makers the usage data they need. Accessible from any computer, tablet or smartphone, ClassLink is ideal for 1to1 and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives.
Eileen Belastock, CETL is the Director of Technology and Information for Nauset Public Schools, MA, and also works with edWeb.net to write articles on their professional learning edWebinars. You can follow Eileen on Twitter @EileenBelastock.