One school district shares the keys to a smooth digital transition.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
What does a shift to a digital curriculum really look like? In an age of increasingly available technologies, how is science class, for example, changing for the better? And in a community set on student improvement, how do school leaders go about actually getting things done? Education leaders Kristin Corriveau and Fred Heid from Illinois have been there, and have a valuable perspective on making change happen.
Kristin Corriveau is the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in Community Unit School District 300, the 6th largest school District in Illinois, based in the Chicago suburb of Algonquin (Kristin is pictured above, right). District 300 serves 21,000 students from preschool through twelfth grade.
A District 300 graduate, Kristin began her career as an elementary school teacher and served in a variety of administrative roles including Assistant Principal, Principal, and Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Schools.
In her current role, Kristin leads a team of curriculum directors and coordinators, coordinates the development and selection of curricular materials, and oversees curriculum for all grade levels, including the English Learners program, high school dual credit programs, and college and career pathways.
Fred Heid began his career in education as a teacher at Booker Middle School in Sarasota County, Florida, where, during his third year, he was recognized as Sarasota County’s Teacher of the Year (pictured above, left). This recognition and subsequent opportunities inspired Mr. Heid to pursue a degree in Educational Leadership.
“We focus a lot of time and attention helping teachers envision what the end-user experience looks like for the student…”
After completing his Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership at the University of South Florida, he was hired as an Assistant Principal at Westridge Middle School in Orange County. While there, Fred worked to develop a data driven instructional program that targeted students’ academic needs.
After three years, Fred was promoted to Principal at Liberty Middle School where he was able to successfully transform the school’s culture and academic performance by moving the school from a “C” to an “A” on the state of Florida’s school report card. Based on this success, Fred was asked to transfer to Memorial Middle School where he worked to develop a structured academic environment with a keen focus on developing academic rigor, literacy development, and a culture of success.
Fred then served as Bureau Chief for School Improvement and “lead” for the state’s Differentiated Accountability (DA) project where his duties included the monitoring and support of 300 schools in DA targeted assistance. As Bureau Chief for School Improvement, he supervised 98 field staff that were embedded within the lowest performing schools. He also served as part of the Department of Education’s team that developed and led the state’s rulemaking process related to the ESEA waiver and Differentiated Accountability process.
He later served as the Chief Academic Officer for Duval County Public Schools (DCPS), serving over 127,000 students in 200 schools.
In June of 2014, he was appointed as Superintendent of District 300 in Algonquin, Illinois, serving over 20,000 students.
As Superintendent, Fred established a 5-Year Strategic Plan focused on achieving the district’s central mission: to ensure all students are college and career ready upon graduation, implemented a new organizational chart to maximize productivity, secured a 4-year contract with the teacher’s union, expanded tuition free full-day kindergarten district wide, organized one of the largest 1:1 Programs in the state, and developed Pathways Programs offering high school students opportunities to earn industry credentials, internships with local business, and college credit before graduation.
In his time as Superintendent, 4,297 students have graduated from District 300 and have earned $49.1 million dollars in scholarships.
In this EdTech Digest interview, Fred joins Kristin in responding to questions in a number of key areas, shedding light on the value of an engaged community driven by strategic, purposeful technology use and a mindful, deliberate decision-making process.
What are some fast facts about Community Unit School District 300 and the community you serve?
Kristin Corriveau: District 300 is the 6th largest school district in Illinois based on student enrollment. The school district covers 118 square miles, approximately 45 miles northwest of Chicago.
District 300 is based in Kane County and includes portions of Cook, DeKalb, and McHenry counties. District 300 includes all or part of 15 municipalities.
District 300 includes 27 schools: one family education center, one charter school, one community school, three high schools, four middle schools, and seventeen elementary schools.
20,926 students attend District 300 schools.
Our student population demographics breakdown accordingly:
- White: 49.3%
- Hispanic: 36.2%
- Asian: 6%
- Black: 5%
- American Indian: 0.2%
- Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 0.1%
Additionally, our student population is represented accordingly:
- Attendance Rate: 94%
- Low Income: 42%
- Limited English Proficiency: 14%
- Mobility Rate: 9%
- Multi-racial: 3.3%
- High School Dropout Rate: 2%
Fred Heid: Our community can best be described as “engaged,” with parents and guardians routinely demonstrating strong attendance at our district’s town hall meetings, parent university presentations, athletic events, and fine arts shows and exhibits.
Our community maintains an active role in our district, specifically through our parent-teacher organizations and the Community Leadership Academy, which provides our stakeholders with an opportunity to learn about our district’s operations, policies, initiatives, and board functions while engaging in dialogue about our District’s existing policies.
Through their consistent engagement with our district, our community has demonstrated their commitment to our central mission: to ensure all students are college or career ready upon graduation.
What’s the district’s vision for integrating technology into teaching and learning? I know you have implemented a 1:1 program—can you tell us about that? Is there more to the story than hardware?
Fred: Our transition into a 1:1 environment has been very deliberate, in that we are always mindful of our purpose in using devices. If a task can be completed more efficiently with paper and pencil, we do not want our teachers to use tech for the sake of tech. Through the leadership of our Director of Digital Literacy and Innovation, Anne Pasco, our teachers and administrators have received targeted training on how to transform the learning environment and maximize student engagement through use of digital tools. When we decided to implement 1:1 technology, we simultaneously transitioned to new digital instructional materials, like the Science Techbook from Discovery Education.
“Our transition into a 1:1 environment has been very deliberate, in that we are always mindful of our purpose in using devices.”
The 1:1 launch, coupled with embedded digital curriculum, provided teachers with a platform to shift their instruction in a targeted way. Digital Learning Coaches (DLC’s) work across our 26 schools to support teachers both in the transition to online curriculum, and ways to enhance instruction with other online tools.
To launch the roll out, DLCs worked exclusively with teachers in content areas implementing new online curriculum. This not only ensured we had adequate support for a successful implementation, but also provided students with a transition to online learning that was manageable for them.
We focus a lot of time and attention helping teachers envision what the end-user experience looks like for the student so that we keep learning at the forefront, and concentrate on ways to increase engaged learning opportunities.
Specifically, what’s the district’s vision for creating digital learning environments for science instruction?
Kristin: For science the focus is largely the same. However, science is unique in that the new content standards for science are vastly different, and require a shift in pedagogy much more rapidly. To facilitate this transition, we sought online materials that embedded the key shifts of the Next Generation Science Standards.
We knew that we could not simply select a curriculum that looked and felt similar to what teachers had used in the past.
Since ELA had already made the shift to digital materials the year prior, we spent time upfront helping our teachers on the materials selection team understand how instruction looks differently in an online environment.
This was an important component in the selection process.
It is easy to gravitate to what is familiar, and we wanted to equip our teachers with the knowledge and materials necessary to focus on ways to innovate.
We want our students to see the connections between the science concepts, practices and core ideas.
We want to be purposeful and help students see the connections between science and the world around them.
We want our students to be able to investigate, explore and design solutions to the problems they see, and we want them to be able to build upon their knowledge and interests.
Our science classrooms need to be active place where students can truly engage in 21st century skills.
What are the key steps to achieving this vision? Were there districts you looked to for inspiration?
Kristin: Updating our curricular materials was a big step toward achieving our goal. It would be difficult for our teachers to innovate without the proper tools to support their work. Discovery Education’s Science Techbook has provided our teachers with a variety of resources to transform instruction, and allows them a great deal of flexibility in selecting tools to implement in their classrooms.
The world of science education is vastly expanding, and it would be difficult to look to any one place for inspiration. More than anything, we are constantly looking to the workforce for inspiration and ways to better prepare our students for tomorrow’s world.
We know that our students will be entering a world of careers that likely don’t exist today, so it is important for us to be continually looking for ways to embed new learning and technology into the science curriculum.
“We are constantly looking to the workforce for inspiration and ways to better prepare our students for tomorrow’s world.”
How did you keep stakeholders informed as to your efforts?
Fred: The district utilizes several tools to keep our stakeholders informed including our website, emails, and social media. In addition, we focus on our Strategic Plan and its initiatives. Updates are provided monthly with Board updates being shared quarterly.
Knowing that the strategic plan can be confusing the team creates videos that capture the progress of initiatives in stakeholder friendly speak. In addition, the district has established the Community Leadership Academy (CLA) where parent representatives from each school attend monthly meetings where we discuss district projects and/or initiatives.
The CLA also works with the district to provide suggestions for future initiatives or changes to existing policy.
Finally, the district established Collaborative Councils at each school level to help ensure that new ideas and/or proposals are being vetted fully.
What is one thing that surprised you as you enacted the district’s vision for transforming science instruction?
Fred: In a positive way, it was a surprise that with all of the changes (1:1, new instructional materials, etc.) the most common request from teachers was to continue to grow their knowledge and understanding of the complexities of the new science standards.
It was comforting to know that in spite of all of the change around them, teachers were grounded in the importance of knowing their standards well, and to provide the continuity of instruction across the district.
If you could point to one major thing you learned as the district transitioned to digital learning environments for science, what would it be?
Kristin: Digital environments provide a lot of choice for teachers. There are so many resources available to them that it created a lot of discussion about how much flexibility they had to personalize the curriculum.
We believe that our students need to have similar learning experiences across the district.
That may mean that all classrooms are covering the same curriculum frameworks, and engaging in the same anchor activities, but in some classrooms teachers may use one video clip to demonstrate a concept, while another teacher may select something that addressed the same skill and standard with a different video clip.
The ability to adapt to and incorporate current events is also a huge plus. When the news is filled with hurricane coverage, our teachers have a vast library filled with resources to build conceptual understanding with their students.
The availability of high-quality digital content has changed science instruction in your district and nationwide. What will drive the next evolution in science instruction?
Kristin: Virtual reality is bound to play a huge role in science instruction.
So much of our own learning in the science classroom was based upon looking at an illustration of a cell, or if we were lucky, a plastic three-dimensional model.
Today’s students are not only able to see the structure of things in a three-dimensional model they can manipulate, but they are also able to see the function of things. Whether it be anatomy or simple machines, students today have a completely different understanding of how things work.
“Virtual reality is bound to play a huge role in science instruction. So much of our own learning in the science classroom was based upon looking at an illustration of a cell, or if we were lucky, a plastic three-dimensional model.”
Virtual reality also opens up opportunities for students to experience places they might not have ever been able to access through virtual field trips.
The possibilities are endless of what can be seen and experienced.
What do you think is the future of education?
Fred: There are so many different areas that could be looked at in terms of the future, but certainly the continual transition to more student-centered learning is a huge focus.
Competency-based instruction, problem based and personalized learning are exciting avenues to continue to explore.
We’re at an exciting time in education because it seems the world is ready to look at new and innovative ways to change the way we teach in order to best meet student needs.
We’ve moved considerably beyond the four walls of the classroom and anything is possible.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: email@example.com