A Data-Driven Transformation in Missouri’s Largest District

Blog Series, Learning, Online & Blended, PreK-12, Smart Schools

By Ben Hackenwerth

Springfield Public Schools, the largest district in Missouri, has just gone through a year long restructuring process under the leadership of a new superintendent, Dr. John Jungmann. When he arrived at SPS, Dr. Jungmann embarked on a 90-day listening and learning tour to gain an understanding of the district’s strengths and opportunities for improvement. A couple of key findings from his listening tour were the need for improved student engagement and technology integration in our classrooms. To better understand how to approach these opportunities, the district launched an envisioning effort, called Imagine SPS, to reimagine teaching and learning in our elementary classrooms and beyond.  

As part of this reimagining, the district created an Innovation and Information department, of which I am the Executive Director. The department includes Online and Blended Learning, Information Technology, Information Integration (Library Services), Choice and Innovation, Summer Learning, and Student Experiences (Experiential Learning).

The main role of the Innovation and Information department is to support the district’s mission of providing Springfield Public Schools’ students with learning experiences that are engaging, relevant, and personal.

These goals are brought together in our IGNiTE initiative, which is first and foremost a teaching and learning initiative. And while IGNiTE will require the deployment of nearly 25,000 mobile devices to teachers and students over the next three years, it is NOT a technology initiative. The tools are just part of what we believe it will take to achieve our true vision of optimizing learning environments throughout the district. Another fundamental aim of the initiative is to ensure equity to all of the students in our system, both in and out of the classroom.  

To help guide such a large, long-term initiative, we needed baseline data at the district and building level, as well as a way to continually monitor growth and ongoing planning. To gather this information, Springfield Public Schools partnered with the research organization BrightBytes.

Part of IGNiTE is a three-year deployment of mobile devices to our schools, and feedback from BrightBytes’ Clarity platform gave us the data to see which of our schools were most ready to be Year One deployment sites. Project teams in Year One schools also used the Clarity data to develop strategies and action plans to ensure progress toward the goals of the initiative. We are currently in the midst of our second Clarity data collection. Data from this second collection will be used to monitor early progress and determine Year Two IGNiTE schools.

As with any district wide initiative, professional learning and teacher support are vital to the success of IGNiTE. We now have reliable and timely data that shows us the strengths within and opportunities for each of our schools, data allowing us to seamlessly tailor professional development that it creates and our team develops and delivers to actual teacher needs and school action plans. We now have reliable and timely data that tells us the strengths and opportunities of our schools, so we are able to tailor support accordingly.

But as I said before, IGNiTE is not about technology. It is about offering the best possible environment for our students. It is about ensuring that all students have the opportunity to learn in a 21st century learning environment. Teaching and learning in Springfield Public Schools is evolving daily and on a large scale. IGNiTE has been the catalyst for this unprecedented change from teacher-centered learning to student-centered learning.

As a system we are in the early stages of this change process. However, our second round of BrightBytes feedback has shown that we are already making quality progress system-wide, and significant progress with our Year One IGNiTE schools. A couple of high points include digital citizenship, which is being taught often and well, and a marked increase in online collaboration across the district.

My advice to other districts embarking on any initiative of this nature is simple: The success of an implementation of this nature depends entirely on teachers in the classroom and those supporting their learning. Reliable data ensures that our support of teachers and leaders is both effective and efficient. A clear understanding of strengths and opportunities for improvement is fundamental in crafting adequate support structures to support change and monitor progress toward district goals.

Our IGNiTE leadership team understands that we can do anything, but we can’t do everything. Shrinking the change by narrowing our focus and providing very strategic and targeted support allows us to provide the highest quality professional learning possible.

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Ben Hackenwerth is the Executive Director of Innovation and Information at Springfield Public Schools. Follow Ben on Twitter, @BenHackenwerth.

Images via Facebook.com/springfieldpublicschools.

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