District 16 to provide more personalized, engaging instruction

As I sat down to write this message to the community, I found myself reflecting upon previous updates I had written. I found a blog entry I wrote almost a year ago, in which I shared how exciting it was to think about the many potential positive impacts of our planned expansion of technology throughout the district.

Jeff Ronneberg
Jeff Ronneberg

Thinking back, despite the comprehensive planning that my colleagues had engaged in to ensure an effective roll-out, I will admit that I had some apprehension about how it might go. I’m proud to report that, thanks to the planning, collaboration and implementation by talented colleagues throughout the district, it could not have gone better.

Just to provide a brief refresher, the Spring Lake Park School District community approved a levy in November 2011 to support and increase educational technology in our district. Over the ensuing months district staff and teachers furthered their already year-long intensive study and began planning in earnest for the expansion of technology-aided teaching and learning.

This study included a review of educational research, visits and assessments of benchmark school districts locally and across the nation, and the continual solicitation of staff input. The result was a phased plan to put nearly 5,000 technology devices, primarily iPads, in the hands of each of our grades two-12 students, as well as to make classroom sets of devices available for use in our early childhood through grade one classrooms.

Before this could begin, infrastructure upgrades had to take place throughout the district. To provide a sense of the scope of this planning and work, our staff upgraded our fiber networks, installed 10 miles of cable, installed 346 wireless access points and increased Internet bandwidth. In addition, our teachers participated in hundreds of hours of professional learning throughout the spring, summer and fall of 2012 in preparation for the phased October through February roll-out of the devices to our students.

The excitement grew in October as we began the first phase of roll-outs. I cannot begin to adequately describe the excitement many of our students showed as they put their hands on an iPad for the first time. Providing this equity of access to technology – for all of our students and their families – was one of the primary drivers of this initiative and is something for which our community should be very proud.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to do so, I encourage you to visit SpringLakeParkSchools.org and watch some of the videos of our students receiving their devices for the first time in the fall, as well as videos we’ve begun to put together this spring of our students and staff creatively utilizing these technologies in the classroom.

Learning redesign – it will never look the same

Putting the devices in the hands of students was really just the first step. We know that technology by itself will not lead to improved learning. The improvement takes place when the technology is paired with great educators, who then redesign learning to provide improved levels of personalized, engaging instruction.

This redesign is happening.  The learning activities in our classrooms really are much different than they were just a year ago, even a few months ago. And, learning will never look like the same again. Why? Just as emerging technologies are changing the world each and every day, they are changing the educational landscape in Spring Lake Park and throughout the world. We have worked extremely hard to be among the leaders.

For this reason, it is exciting to report that the Spring Lake Park School District –  in partnership with the Farmington Area School District – has just been designated an Innovation Zone by the Minnesota Department of Education. This is a five-year pilot approved by the Legislature in 2012 to encourage the development of new, innovative ways to deliver education more effectively in Minnesota.

It is important to note though that innovation in education is not limited to technology. Ultimately, when we talk about innovation in Spring Lake Park, it’s about developing innovative learning practices that capitalize on staff creativity, position the district to adapt to continually emerging change and technologies, so that we can meet the needs, interests and aspirations of our students.

In addition to the 1:1 digital learning initiative, we will focus on providing increased flexible learning options, such as expanded hybrid course options that blend traditional classroom with online learning, or project-based and community-based learning experiences. We will also design customized learning options that accelerate and enrich student learning and enhance all-important student-teacher-parent partnerships

Finally, in addition to the work described above, our teachers and staff have been expanding our efforts around what I believe is an even more significant initiative – preparing each of our students to be college-ready upon graduation. We believe that this focus will prepare each and every student for the pursuit of whatever aspiration they may have, be that attending college or going directly into the workforce.

In U of M President Eric Kaler’s recent comments to the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce, he cited a study by the Center on Education and the Workforce that by 2018 – in just five years – 70 percent of Minnesota jobs will require post-secondary education. He also shared that Minnesota ranks 49th of 50 states in jobs available that require a high school education or less.

How are we addressing this? I would need an entire column for that – and on another day I will do just that. For now, I’ll offer a few brief examples. Teachers and staff have worked to increase the rigor and expectations for our students, more clearly defining the academic benchmarks that students need to meet on their journey through our schools, while also developing a “map” for families to follow through their journey with their child from pre-school through 12th grade.

This work of preparing our students for college and life is exciting and at the same time daunting. However, there is not any work I would rather be doing. I spend each day working with colleagues throughout our system to continuously improve the personalized learning experiences for our students; learning experiences that foster self-direction and curiosity, that result in their seeing no limits to what they can accomplish.

I am so proud of my colleagues and staff throughout the district. It is gratifying to walk through our schools and see their continual efforts with each of our students. There has always been a great history of learning in Spring Lake Park and there is a bright future ahead.

I believe this quote from Robert Fritz, a respected author, composer and business consultant, captures the importance of our work, as well as how I hope each of our students view their future, “If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want.”

It is my hope that you – no matter your role in the school district or relationship to the school community  – are able to join me and our staff in doing all you can to make the hopes and dreams of our young people a reality.

Thank you for the ongoing support. As always, I invite you to attend a student activity – maybe a game, concert, or play. Our students will appreciate your interest and support. Visit our website to get news about current and future initiatives, our planning efforts and upcoming events, as well as updates on the talents and achievements of our students.

Jeff Ronneberg is the superintendent of the Spring Lake Park School District.

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