Gurnee District 56 part of tech superstars
Gurnee Elementary District 56's early push to give computer tablets to all students has led to membership in a select nationwide organization focused on digital learning, officials said.
District 56's acceptance into the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools -- an independent, bipartisan group authorized by Congress in 2008 -- comes almost a year since Superintendent John Hutton was among just 100 education leaders from across the country recognized for transitioning to digital education by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony.
Just 22 school districts from across the country were accepted into the organization for this year, bringing the total to 73, according to an announcement released Monday. League of Innovative Schools began in 2011.
"The league's goal is to find leaders pioneering bold, creative and student-centric practices, connect them with each other and amplify what they do best so others can learn," League of Innovative Schools Director Sara Schapiro said.
Hutton said students will benefit from the organization because District 56 representatives will be able to attend periodic meetings and learn what the other school systems are doing on the technology front, as well as make connections with digital product entrepreneurs and researchers.
"You're talking about the most innovative school districts in the country," Hutton said.
District 56 caught the White House's attention in November 2014 for being among the few elementary systems in the country to provide computer tablets to all students. The district started distributing Apple iPads to all 2,250 pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade in December 2012.
Hutton said data detailing improved student achievement since the iPad rollout and the White House kudos were among the highlights of the application District 56 submitted to be considered for the League of Innovative Schools.
"It's a very extensive application," Hutton said. "You have to be really good to get in it."
Before the iPad launch at the Gurnee school district, about 56 percent of students were considered to be meeting overall educational target goals. Two years later, Hutton said, 75 percent were meeting goals.
Increased student motivation, boosted attendance and more productivity in homework assignments have been other positive results since the computer tablets were placed in the hands of all pupils. according to District 56 research.
Patrick Jones, principal at Viking Middle School in Gurnee, said improved student communication has been another benefit of the district-issued computer tablets. He said communication between pupils and teachers is "probably at an all-time high."
"Students can email their teachers up to 9 o'clock at night and get a response, if they've got some questions about their learning," Jones said. "I would also say there has been an increased emphasis on collaboration, that our students collaborate better than ever with one another in many group projects that are kind of focused around the iPad."
While there now is an emphasis on digital learning, Hutton said, books and other traditional materials are still used at District 56. He estimated technology-based education is used about 75 percent of the time.
"I always tell my teachers to use technology when it makes sense," he said.
Digital Promise was designed to bring together top educators, researchers and early-technology developers. Startup money sources for the group included the U.S. Department of Education and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Aurora-based Indian Prairie Unit District 204 and Gurnee District 56 are the only systems from Illinois in the League of Innovative Schools.