Celebrating and Supporting Differences

Access to one-to-one laptops helps Springfield Public Schools create a blended learning environment where every student can succeed

Overview

Located in Springfield MA, Springfield Public Schools are large and diverse, with approximately 26,000 students, about 4,000 employees (2,500 teachers), representing nearly 60 schools. The Springfield educational program, comprised of strong basic skills, enrichment and extracurricular activities, is designed to meet the needs of all—not just some—students. Through its “Springfield Promise,” the district is committed to creating a culture of equity and proficiency.

Technology plays a significant role in enabling the Springfield Promise. Through the provision of laptops for every student and the implementation of the Brightspace learning management system (LMS), Springfield’s educators can deliver the highest quality education, preparing children for the ever-changing world and unlocking the potential of every child so they can become lifelong learners, responsible citizens, and future leaders.

Challenge

New Strategies to Reach Every Student

Serving a predominately urban environment, Springfield Public Schools are exceptionally diverse in nature. The district’s student population comes from a variety of family, religious and ethnic backgrounds. They speak numerous native languages and represent many cultures. And yet despite the challenges that come with serving such a large and diverse population, Springfield’s staff and educators remain committed to helping each student achieve his/her potential for peak academic performance.

“As a kindergarten through to grade 12 school district, our role is really to ensure that students are learning what they need to learn so that when they get that diploma they are either ready to go into the workforce or go to college and be successful,” says Paul Foster, CIO of Springfield Public Schools.

Students also come from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, with many not having access to laptops or computers at home.

“The demographics within our school district make us quite unique,” explains Katie O’Sullivan, Senior Administrator of Curriculum. “We have children from across the street who live in a single-family home, and who are being raised by two employed parents. We also have students who are living in a shelter who may not know where they are going to sleep that night, or what they will have for dinner. In fact, 90% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch, which means they are coming from some pretty economically disadvantaged backgrounds.”

With such a wide range of ability and background in each classroom, it’s critical that teachers can differentiate instruction to reach every student on an individualized level, and provide better access to technology in the classroom and at home to enable that learning.

“It felt important to provide technology to students to support their daily life in school so they would be ready for college and career. So we made the move to having a laptop for every student in grade 3 to grade 12,” says Foster.

Preparing Kids for Success in a Digital World

“We are living in such a digital world within a global economy. It is about making sure our students have all the tools, so they have the knowledge and skills to be successful and to apply those skills to any situation in which they move forward,” says O’Sullivan.

The ability to offer an anywhere, anytime learning experience was another priority driving technology adoption in Springfield. “Starting in preschool, we’re really focused on getting our kids college and career ready,” says Shannon Collins, Principal at Frederick Harris Elementary School. “We have recognized that if we are not incorporating technology into what we do every day, we are not preparing our kids to be college and career ready by the time they graduate from high school. We need to be able to offer a whole menu of ways for children to engage in learning and then demonstrate what they know.”

Solution

Transforming Teaching and Learning Across the District

“Prior to adoption of Brightspace, Springfield teachers used ‘everything and anything’ to facilitate learning,” says Suzanne Zarges, Digital Learning Manager, Springfield Public Schools. “There was no one LMS used by the entire district,” she adds.

“We had already embarked on a journey to move toward having one laptop for every student, but because so many different tools were in use it was hard to provide adequate support and training to teachers,” explains Foster. “The one laptop for every student decision served as a catalyst for us to start the search for an LMS. Also, we knew we were going to triple the number of computers in use in the district while not adding any staff to support them. For those reasons, we needed to implement a common LMS platform across the district.”

In moving to a district-wide LMS, Springfield had several goals. First, it wanted to transform teaching and learning across the district, to support blended instruction and individualized learning paths. Second, it wanted to move assessments online, so students could keep and maintain their work as they went from one grade level to the next. They also wanted to support teachers’ desire to communicate and collaborate.

Something in Brightspace for Every Teacher and Student

When evaluating Brightspace, the district quickly saw the potential to do many things within the platform, a capability that made the solution stand out from other vendors with less flexibility. “We were struck by everything Brightspace could do,” says Zarges. “We could see that Brightspace would provide us with the consistency and controls to support training and direction, and could scale from novice to tech expert. There was something in Brightspace for every teacher and every student.”

“We ultimately selected Brightspace because it met all of our requirements. It offered an ePortfolio, an online assessment tool and a user-friendliness that was immediately evident when we demoed the platform,” adds Foster.


“We use Brightspace for communicating with our teachers and our classmates. I am most proud of my Mars essay. It was really fun because we had text clues and we used Brightspace to get the stories and the information to include in our essay.”
Cenaya, Grade 4 student

Result

Changing the Way Teachers Teach, and Students Learn

Since its introduction to the district, Brightspace has been instrumental in helping Springfield change the way teachers teach and students learn. “Part of the change we are undertaking is in making sure we’re finding new ways to get kids engaged and motivated and to persevere. Brightspace has become part of that work,” says Collins. She points to some of the changes Brightspace is facilitating in her school. “We’ve even changed the way we do our morning messaging. We used to write on the chalkboard, and then a whiteboard. Now we use Brightspace. When kids enter the classroom, they’ll go to their computer cart, access and turn on their computer and log into Brightspace to be greeted by their teacher via technology.”

Springfield’s teachers are scattered across the technology adoption curve, but in general are embracing the Brightspace platform to deliver individualized instruction, explore exciting new ways to engage students, and to collaborate and communicate with their peers.

“For me, the phrase ‘reach every learner’ means that every student has the ability to be successful,” says Renee Glazer, a grade 4 teacher at Glickman Elementary School. “When a student is having difficulty staying on task, Brightspace actually helps with its release conditions as well as permissions. It allows me to basically lock down certain areas of the Internet, and the assignment until students complete the first area.”

Glazer is also exploring features such as discussion boards to get her students talking–not just with her, but with each other. “Now that my students are starting to actually write, they are so excited to be able to share their ideas. I’ll use the Brightspace discussion board to ask students to describe in detail what they are going to be writing about in their fictional story. Then together, they can explore each other’s ideas and provide feedback. Just seeing that happen in my classroom makes teaching worthwhile, because I can see that it is making a difference.”

Brightspace Now a Focal Point for Collaboration and Communication

Brightspace has also become a focal point for collaboration and communication. “In nearly all our schools, we have set up online professional learning communities using Brightspace,” says Foster. “Our instructional coaches have set up an online space where they are posting materials, and where teachers can access discussion boards to submit their lesson plans and obtain feedback. That’s not something we set out to do when we adopted the LMS, but teachers are finding the platform professionally beneficial.”

“We are seeing more collaboration with resources for teachers because we are using Brightspace,” says O’Sullivan. “We are having conversations. We are sharing resources. We are using the submission box to submit quality lesson plans that I can use at a school 30 miles away from where the teacher who created it works. It’s all there and it allows us to all teach to the same standards.”

In addition to leveraging the platform for peer collaboration opportunities, the district is using Brightspace as a tool to connect with parents as well. “Parent engagement is probably the most important part of what we do,” says Elizabeth Bienia, Principal at Glickman Elementary. “It impacts how students try to learn and how families help them at home.” One of the best ways to achieve that is making sure parents know what’s happening with their children in school. “We want parents to log in and see the kind of assignments students are being asked to complete, seeing the kind of discussion topics that maybe teachers are engaging the students with, and obviously being able to see their students grades so they can keep track of where they are at,” adds Bienia.

As the district’s use of the platform matures, the digital learning team are now fielding more complex questions from teachers who are starting to explore the platform more fully. “We’ve gone from questions such as ‘how do I access an online assessment?’ to ‘how do I design a course so I can issue an award?’ says Zarges.

Ten Steps Ahead in the Use of Technology

On a relative scale, Springfield’s district-wide adoption of an LMS is far ahead of its peers. “I’m very proud of the fact that we seem to be 10 steps ahead of everyone else,” says Zarges. “I feel we are progressive and ahead of the game when it comes to urban districts integrating technology into the classroom. It makes me proud to work here. The leadership is phenomenal and our superintendent has been very supportive. Everyone is on board and understands that we need to do this to help our students succeed.”

But Springfield’s ambitions for Brightspace are far more transformative in nature. “Within the next five to ten years at Springfield, our intent is that teaching and learning will look entirely different than it looks today. It will be mastery-based and competency-based, and Brightspace will be a part of that shift,” says Foster.

What Users are Saying

“I believe that students are successful on their own, but I also believe having a parent engaged with open communication allows families to feel like they are part of the educational process. Just being able to send that quick message, or letting parents know they can contact me via Brightspace is definitely easier. I think it makes a huge impact on our students too.” – Renee Glazer, Grade 4 Teacher

 

“What I’ve learned is, first, the students know more than I do about the technology, and second, we’ll work through it together. If you can get over a problem then the technology just enhances learning.” – DeeDee Grinstead, Grade 2 Teacher.

 

 “I use Brightspace almost daily. Early in the year, it was primarily for teachers and our instructional staff, and very early on I said I wanted to be a part of it. I have videos and articles for educators that might be important. I created a Dropbox for lesson plans so that my staff can just automatically put them there every week.” – Elizabeth Bienia, Principal

 

 “I like Brightspace because my teacher lets me know what we’re doing for the day and I get to be ready to prepare for what we’re doing in class. I use Brightspace on my laptop. It’s pretty cool to have a test on a computer.” – Madalyn, Grade 2 Student

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