September 30, 2021 | By My Nguyen
Digital Promise is thrilled to announce 37 districts—including 26 new districts and 11 returning districts—will join the ranks of the League of Innovative Schools for the 2021-2022 school year. The new cohort extends the network’s reach to 125 districts across 34 states, and expands its cumulative impact to 3.8 million students served over time.
Over the past 18 months, innovation has taken on a whole new meaning. As the COVID-19 pandemic upended nearly every aspect of life, how school districts leveraged technology, engaged students in powerful learning, and supported learners and their families fundamentally shifted. Lines between school and the home became blurred, and in that haze, new forms of innovation emerged at local, national, and individual levels across the education landscape. This year’s League of Innovative Schools cohort is demonstrative of that innovation.
Please join us in welcoming the following new districts to the League of Innovative Schools:
This year’s League of Innovative Schools cohort exemplifies how crisis can also be a strong driver of creativity and invention.
In California, College Connect is Rowland Unified School District’s solution to making college and post-secondary pathways more equitable for every student. The initiative provides individualized assistance to students throughout college exploration, including applications, scholarships, and acceptance. College Connect serves any interested student; however, its target population is the district’s most at-promise students, including young people experiencing homelessness and in the foster care system, English learners, and undocumented students. Prior to the pandemic, students participating in College Connect gathered at a local school after school to access applications and resources while receiving support from staff, including the superintendent. When the pandemic struck, the district pivoted to live virtual services, including full group Zoom sessions and one-on-one support for essay writing and unpacking financial aid.
Located in Mississippi, Columbus Municipal School District is committed to advancing advocacy of learners’ parents. In April 2021, the district launched monthly parent advocacy meetings focused on restorative justice, literacy, and college and career readiness. Previously held online, meetings now take place in person and are recorded and posted on the district website for increased accessibility and transparency. Through a partnership with the nonprofit 50CAN, the district is developing advocacy training for students, parents, and all stakeholders in the Columbus community because “well-informed families will assist us with the recovery of unfinished learning.”
Districts are also fostering student leadership and elevating student voices in more meaningful ways. In the California Area School District (Pennsylvania), the Student Superintendent Council, a student-led organization representing the diversity of the school community, meets with the superintendent on a monthly basis to institute positive changes in the district. Students on the council bring ideas and raise areas of improvement for the school community. “Through the pandemic, we have learned to be more flexible in our learning opportunities for children, and we learned that we can offer the flexibility that students want,” said Dr. Laura B. Jacob, the district’s superintendent. The council has led to improved online synchronous and asynchronous instruction; improved communication among administration, teachers, and students; improved access points in designated classrooms; opportunities for virtual or face-to-face learning; and more effective use of instructional space.
Similarly, during the 2019-2020 school year, San Antonio Union School District (California) created the first-ever student board member position. Following interviews and selection, the board member—a middle school student—acts as the voice for the district’s student population. Each month during their one-year term, the board member presents a report to the board and school community to share the input and feedback of students. The student board members’ family, friends, and neighbors often attend to be part of the experience. Since introducing the role, the district has seen increased attendance at school board meetings, contributing to a more welcoming and inclusive culture.
Like many districts that strived to close the digital divide during the pandemic, Roselle Public Schools (New Jersey) took up the mantle to address student and community WiFi access across the entire borough. The district invested in mobile hotspot vehicles that are deployed daily across eight areas of town. In addition, access is available to all members of the community through WiFi access points installed on the exterior of buildings and local businesses. Thanks to the district’s efforts, connectivity in the community has reached 100 percent.
Maine Township High School District 207 (Illinois)—the first district in the country to leverage cloud computing—was well-positioned for the shift to remote learning in 2020, so they focused their efforts on real-time coaching and adult learning to support teachers. The district’s Adult Learning program regularly convened teachers around “Problems of Practice” topics to strengthen their learning culture and provide a trusted space for sharing challenges and questions. To grow this learning culture beyond their district, Maine Township High School District 207 made all of their e-learning resources available to the public. Their trainings and materials were used across the country.
And the exemplars continue. Ultimately, this year’s cohort reminds us that innovation is not confined to a particular program or project. Rather, as Rowland Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Julie Mitchell noted in the district’s application: “Innovation is a mindset—an attitude.”
The Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools was launched at the White House under President Barack Obama within the U.S. Department of Education in 2011. As a national coalition connecting the most forward-thinking leaders in education, the League’s mission is to design, validate, champion, and scale effective, innovative learning opportunities to advance equity and excellence for every learner.
This year’s districts were selected based on the following factors:
To best meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population in the United States and to strengthen the composition and reach of the network, this year’s highly competitive application cycle prioritized districts meeting at least one of the following criteria:
Working at the intersection of education leaders, researchers, and developers, Digital Promise and the League of Innovative Schools provide an environment for superintendents and district leaders to share and learn from best practices; leverage research and participate in continuous improvement models; engage in research and development (R&D) projects to tackle challenges with peers across the country; and implement new technologies and innovations.
In addition to this year’s 26 new districts, we are pleased to welcome the following districts back to the League:
To learn more about the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools:
[Edit: As of October 27, 2021, Clear Creek Independent School District is no longer an active member of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.]
By Lisa Jobson