Hero Awards finalists: 18 schools and educators dedicated to learning

Hero Awards finalists have prioritized student safety, student learning, SEL and mental health, and network security

The eSchool News K-12 Hero Awards recognize the dedicated efforts of education professionals across K-12 departments, including IT, curriculum, instruction and administration. 

Sponsored this year by JAR Systems and SAP Concur, the program received an influx of inspiring nominations that highlight the innovation and selflessness of educators in schools and districts across the nation.

Listed here in the order in which their nominations were received are program finalists. Stay tuned, because the second group of finalists will be featured on eSchool News next week!

Jump to: Christopher Columbus High School, Arlington Independent School District, Becky Alexander, Carmen Alvarez, Chris Moore, District 49, Dr. Elizabeth Faison, Dr. Nick Migliorino, Ed Kemnitzer, Emily Herring, FlexPoint Education Cloud, Florida Virtual School, Cory Hocker, Green Bay Area Public Schools, Hardee County School District, Heather Magill, Hemet Unified School District, Jefferson County Public Schools

Nominee: Alex Seage, Christopher Columbus High School             
Nominated by: Samsung Electronics America      

Alex Seage built a career leading technology and innovation in the cruise industry, which also provided him with a deep understanding of the technology needed to improve the experience for cruise guests. In January 2021, Seage decided it was time to leap into the education field, leveraging the skills he acquired to make a difference at his alma mater, Christopher Columbus High School. With the goal of modernizing the school’s IT infrastructure for the ever-evolving pandemic era, Seage joined CCHS as a Senior Director of Technology and Innovation.

CCHS is a private, Roman Catholic, college-preparatory high school, conducted by the Marist Brothers in the Westchester census-designated place of Miami Dade County, Florida. When onboarding, Seage saw firsthand how teachers were under great stress as they struggled to create crucial engagement and ensure students weren’t feeling left behind in the classroom. At that moment, a top-down approach to create a “Campus of the Future” was devised by adopting smart signage within lecture halls, hallways, athletic facilities, and executive conference rooms to transform the entire campus. Under his leadership, CCHS was one of the first schools to implement Samsung’s Flip 3 whiteboard in 2021. Samsung’s Interactive Whiteboard was ready out-of-the-box and was an easy-to-use product for educators to easily provide personalized experiences. Seamless integration with teachers’ education platforms helped to immerse students in their learning material.

As CCHS introduced this product to the campus, faculty were able to learn how their teachers wanted to incorporate collaborative experiences using technology and content-driven media that could be delivered in a quick and meaningful manner to hold students’ interest. The staff now uses the interactive display to create and present lesson plans and share content with students utilizing their own tablets. Teachers have also expressed positive feedback using the technology, underscoring how it led to more collaborative learning experiences for students. The ability to offer two-way communication and collaboration between students and teachers is no longer a pipe dream – by Seage utilizing Samsung’s products, CCHS was able to provide the technology and infrastructure to make this dream a reality.

The positive results in the classroom have led to other expansion opportunities across the CCHS campus. The school recently built a new center for science and arts outfitted with new, cutting-edge Samsung solutions that provide an ideal space for students to foster STEM skills, such as critical thinking, communication, and creativity. Additionally, Seage has put forward creative ideas to implement Samsung technology beyond the classroom, including a production studio, wayfinding, and even integrating the technology into the school’s sports program.  

Seage has played an instrumental role in transforming an ordinary campus into one that truly embraces the meaning of being “smart.” He has successfully built the architecture for a connected campus that enhances the campus experience, drives operational efficiency, and provides education in a manner that all can access. And for Seage, the best has yet to come.    

Nominee: Arlington Independent School District                                                            
Nominated by: Identity Automation

Arlington Independent School District (AISD) has a population of more than 61,000 students. With a highly-engaged faculty and array of learning opportunities that foster each student’s unique interests and talents, the district’s goal is to have 100 percent of AISD students graduate exceptionally prepared for college, career and citizenship. The district seamlessly combines the strength of a large school district with innovative approaches and focused support to help students articulate and achieve their dreams.

Arlington ISD has always been forward-thinking when it comes to its district technology strategy, and the district’s Assistant Superintendent of Technology, Eric Upchurch, has been the driving force behind much of its innovation. The district’s ability to quickly and efficiently supply devices to students, ensure remote access, and provide educational resources is a model other districts can follow.

When the pandemic started, Upchurch knew this would permanently change how students learn. The challenge was how to quickly adapt to the circumstances and make sure all students in the district had easy, affordable, and quick access to the technologies needed to succeed throughout the school year and in years to come.

Led by Upchurch, the technology team coordinated across district departments to ensure a speedy roll-out of 1:1 devices. Whether it was participating in device-day pickup or hosting and coordinating meet-the-teacher drive-throughs, the entire district staff stepped up to provide for nearly 61,000 students.

Internet hotspots were also set up so the thousands of students who otherwise wouldn’t have internet could maintain classroom access and ensure the continuing equity in education.

“It’s really been incredible,” said Upchurch. “The staff has worked really hard to get through this. The campus technology people, the assistant principals, school staff, it’s been a big task. They’ve done a great job.”

Additionally, Upchurch is constantly looking for innovative new technologies that can help the district. His team likes to beta test new technologies to explore the benefits for all of their end users, including security technologies that help keep the district safe.

Arlington ISD has also made a big push in its Technology Enrichment program. The program gives students technology skills that can lead them into the future. This includes access to the latest technology applications that can have real world applications. The district also holds several events inviting staff to learn about technology tools and strategies for the classroom.

Arlington Independent School District is an edtech integration leader both districtwide and in the classroom, and other districts can look to AISD for inspiration. Ultimately, from Upchurch and the technology team to leadership districtwide, AISD knows how important technology is in today’s learning environment and wants every student to have the same opportunity to be successful.

Nominee: Link TextBecky Alexander, Morris Elementary
Nominated by: Istation 

Becky Alexander is the principal at Morris Elementary School in Morris, Oklahoma. She has inspired change at the school by leading its faculty and staff to embrace technology and enrich their strategy toward 21st century learning. Alexander seeks new opportunities to use technology within classroom lessons regularly. She implements programs like Istation to give her teachers an advantage in providing data driven instruction and strong, effective interventions.

Alexander inspires an innovative approach to learning by embedding interventions led by Istation’s assessment data into the school’s daily instruction. These interventions ensure that students are being equipped with the best possible skills practice to achieve academic growth. As a result, Alexander has seen significant growth in her students.

Inspired by Alexander’s success, educators at Morris Elementary also use Istation’s reports and printable resources to promote academic growth in reading and math. With reliable, actionable data, educators at Morris Elementary are able to provide targeted instruction. Additionally, student motivation is high, as they are able to track their monthly growth and celebrate successes. As a result of these successes, Alexander presented at The Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administrators Conference on the effectiveness of this intervention, inspiring educators state-wide to follow her lead.

Alexander continues her commitment to improving the educational community by being an active member of Istation’s Red Cape Community, which allows her to collaborate with educators nationwide on best practices, and provide feedback directly with Istation on the classroom needs of educators.

Nominee: Link TextCarmen Alvarez, Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District  
Nominated by: Age of Learning  

Ms. Alvarez is the Early Learning Director for Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District (HCISD), a few miles from the U.S./Mexico border. The district serves an economically-disadvantaged community with about 80 percent of the students eligible to participate in the free and reduced-price meal program. In fall 2020, 61 percent of children in prekindergarten were classified as academically “at risk” and she has witnessed the impact a lack of readiness for kindergarten and beyond has on students. Therefore, Ms. Alvarez and her colleagues looked for ways to solve that challenge.

In the fall of 2019, HCISD launched a universal full-day pre-K program for 4-year-old children at no cost to families. Affordability is the number one deterrent to enrolling in pre-K, so they dedicated the resources to make it accessible to everyone in the community. Through this program, HCISD began to instill a strong foundation in literacy and math in these young learners.

Shortly after the program started, COVID-19 forced the district to rethink how it could academically support the pre-K students. While remote learning was difficult for all, the youngest learners faced particularly acute challenges when in-school learning was no longer possible. The priority was to ensure that district closures would not negatively impact pre-K students’ academic growth and development.

Under Ms. Alverez’s leadership, pre-K classes began using an adaptive, mastery-based math program, My Math Academy, to strengthen young learners’ foundational math knowledge, and inspire their love of learning. Furthermore, due to remote learning, Alvarez turned to the technology solution to equip educators with insights and tools to personalize and accelerate learning at-home and in the classroom.

HCISD teachers quickly saw positive changes in how students were building math skills. The pre-K students using My Math Academy during the 2020-2021 school year nearly tripled their skill levels, while kindergarteners participating in the program increased their skill levels by 50 percent. And perhaps most impactful is that due to learner variability, each student was at a different starting point in learning, yet every student mastered all pre-K skills and continued well into kindergarten. HCISD even had children entering kindergarten the following year learning math at a second-grade level!

Based on the overwhelmingly positive results, HCISD expanded the use of My Math Academy and began a pilot of My Reading Academy, an adaptive, standards-aligned reading solution. The district is already seeing improved reading skills among students, and they have become more confident, engaged readers. 

District officials expected the extraordinary challenges from the pandemic would drastically increase the number of students falling behind in their learning. However, more than 850 children enrolled in HCISD’s universal pre-K program, and HCISD students are now performing better on math and reading compared to cohorts in previous years, and their math results are above the national average. Ms. Alvarez and her colleagues were at the forefront of developing unique educational experiences for their youngest learners and adopting evidence-based practices–by implementing My Math Academy and My Reading Academy–to ensure technology was positively impacting teacher engagement and driving student outcomes.

Nominee: Link TextChris Moore, Salem-Keizer Public Schools                                                     
Nominated by: EmpowerU, Inc. 

Chris Moore is a heart-centered leader who works tirelessly to support the needs of all staff and students. He is intentionally and strategically focused on expanding access to effective social-emotional and mental health support holistically throughout the district–a huge undertaking in a district of 40,000 students.

Chris is extremely thoughtful in his selection of partnerships and is always thinking strategically about how the programs and supports he implements will fit into the greater picture of driving whole child success. He is collaborative with his partners and his school sites, making the right connections at the right time, resulting in integrated program implementation to leverage the greatest impact and drive big outcomes.

Chris helps his school sites, staff, and students tap into their highest potential every day by meeting them where they are with belief in them and unconditional positive regards–connecting them with resources like EmpowerU and working with them to identify where and how EmpowerU programs can best support their unique needs and challenges.

Nominee: District 49      
Nominated by: LearnPlatform    

The number of digital tools used by districts rapidly accelerated during the pandemic as schools transitioned to remote learning, causing challenges for both teachers and administrators. Leaders at District 49 (D49), one of Colorado’s fastest-growing districts, knew they needed to work collaboratively to ensure that the education technology tools used across their system were delivering value for students and teachers and that they were doing so safely.

The district serves approximately 21,000 students across four distinct zones spanning 133 square miles of urban and rural areas in Colorado. D49 is committed to providing students high-quality technology opportunities and giving teachers the tools they need to help all students achieve desired outcomes. Colorado vendors and school districts are required by the state to facilitate safe online learning experiences.

To better understand edtech use across the district’s system, the district’s tech team set up a district Inventory Dashboard, provided free from LearnPlatform. Within days, they realized that students and teachers were using more than 2,000 edtech tools systemwide. They knew they needed to establish clear processes for managing this amount of edtech use effectively.

In particular, they wanted to be able to encourage consistent practices across school buildings, ensure compliance with Colorado’s student data privacy requirements, reduce frustration and confusion among stakeholders (including parents and staff), and begin to evaluate the impact of edtech on student outcomes. At the same time, they wanted to maintain local decision-making autonomy among their four zones.

While several district-wide teams, including Learning Services, Purchasing, and Data and Performance, worked together to identify and select LearnPlatform to help them achieve their goals, Melissa Riggs, D49 Education Technology Specialist within the Learning Services team, ultimately led the LearnPlatform implementation.

She and her team have worked closely with the LearnPlatform team to:

  • Create a district library of their top edtech tools
  • Keep stakeholders (teachers, staff, and parents/guardians) informed of the approval and privacy statuses for those tools
  • Establish a clearly defined, efficient process for requesting and reviewing new edtech product requests to ensure curricular alignment, technical compatibility, and data privacy compliance
  • Evaluate product usage, cost, and student achievement to better understand how well key edtech products are working for all D49 students
  • Reduce the financial and human costs associated with managing and vetting edtech tools
  • Make it easier for teachers to find and select edtech products to use in their classrooms

D49’s thoughtful rollout of LearnPlatform, led by Melissa, has made D49’s use of edtech more manageable, thoughtful, and consistent; ensured compliance with state student data privacy regulations; and optimized safety. Simultaneously through her leadership, she’s been successful in reducing the workload on teachers and staff and has improved district value from edtech expenditures, all without interfering with local decision making.

Nominee: Dr. Elizabeth Faison, Prince George’s County Public Schools     
Nominated by: AllHere  

We are nominating Dr. Elizabeth Faison, Associate Superintendent of Student Services at Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), for leading a transparent, honest, and thoughtful interrogation of what stands in the way of authentic partnerships between families and schools. PGCPS’ focus on transformational practices has led to the district’s quest for innovative approaches to removing barriers to student success.

Dr. Elizabeth Faison has held leadership positions for over 16 years at PGCPS, one of the nation’s largest school districts with 208 schools and more than 136,500 students in Maryland. As Associate Superintendent of Student Services, Elizabeth ensures PGCPS’s diverse student population receives holistic support that includes school health, mental health, psychological services, homeless, home and hospital teaching, home schooling, restorative approaches, international admissions, bullying prevention, and attendance.

As the gap between home and school widened during the pandemic, Elizabeth led the funding of programs that ensure every family in her district receives the support they need by establishing new touchpoints that reach students and families wherever they are. This includes the adoption of AllHere, a 24/7 texting-based chatbot that provides personalized support so that every family can get questions answered within seconds or be escalated to a support staff member within the district. When it was time to reopen for in-person learning, the district used AllHere to provide timely, empathetic nudges and offers of support to help families address any challenges they might have faced returning to school. This chatbot, affectionately named by students as J.A.R.V.I.S (Just A Rather Very Intelligent System), allowed PGCPS to also provide real time answers to parents’ inquiries as well as provide students with a way to alert the district to personal crises.

In recent years, Elizabeth has spearheaded a district-wide initiative to drive awareness around attendance, one of the top drivers of student success. Chronic absenteeism, defined as missing more than 10 percent of days in a school year for any reason, has risen to historic levels during the pandemic. Rather than fall back on outdated, often punitive attendance intervention strategies, Elizabeth has taken important steps forward to reimagine attendance strategies that acknowledge the unique circumstances of each child and family.

Traditionally, school absences are assumed to be a result of disinterested families when the real causes more often are language barriers, parents working multiple jobs, and poor internet access, among a host of other obstacles. Over the last decade, family engagement leaders like Elizabeth have championed a shift in how our education system treats chronic absenteeism, from a punitive to an empathetic approach that treats families as crucial components to their child’s success.

Elizabeth expertly and compassionately convened the district’s attendance task force, bringing together families, students, educators, and policymakers in support of a high-quality system of supports around attendance and overall student achievement. Elizabeth’s leadership in PGCPS shows the way toward a more liberatory, solidarity-driven, strengths-driven, and equity-focused engagement practice that supports student services excellence for all children.”                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Nominee: Dr. Nick Migliorino, Norman Public Schools
Nominated by: Rave Mobile Safety          

In the wake of the tragedy in Uvalde, TX earlier this year, school administrators across the nation began assessing ways to protect students. Elected officials also started doubling down on safety measures, including the Governor of Oklahoma, who issued a statewide mandate this summer requiring more than 1,800 public K-12 and charter schools in the state to implement Rave Panic Button by September 1. Oklahoma is not new to Rave Panic Button – the state is coming up on its third year of working with Rave to protect students and staff.

Dr. Nick Migliorino, superintendent of Norman Public Schools, has been the catalyst for school safety technology in Oklahoma for years and continues to keep the safety of students and staff at the top of his priorities today.

In 1999, he was awarded the Governor’s Humanitarian Award for his service to students during the May 3, 1999 tornado that damaged Westmoore High School. Since then, he has had a long and successful career, taking on more challenging roles along the way, ultimately becoming the superintendent of Norman Public Schools in 2017. Before taking on his current position, Migliorino served as the school’s Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services and Chief Technology Officer, which entailed overseeing all technical aspects of the district. In this capacity, Migliorino worked with the district’s technical services staff, site teachers, leaders, and other external stakeholders to expand the district’s use of technological resources. As part of this work, he also oversaw bond projects and managed the district’s maintenance, transportation, child nutrition health, and technology divisions.

A firm believer in the fact that technology can make a difference in the ways that schools connect and protect students, Migliorino co-founded School Connect, a company that provided a web-based platform for schools to create their own mobile-messaging applications. The company was sold to Jostens, Inc. in 2012 and the platform continues to serve districts across the nation as School Way.

Dr. Migliorino worked tirelessly to ensure that Norman Public Schools was among one of the first Oklahoma school districts to use the Rave Panic Button application, a school safety app that, with the push of a button, sends important information to 9-1-1 centers, on-site personnel, and first responders in the event of an emergency. Norman Public Schools implemented Rave Panic Button before Governor Kevin Stitt declared the executive order and served as a resource to many other districts who had questions about the benefits of Rave Panic Button. Today, as of this writing, 92.4 percent of Oklahoma schools have opted in to use the Rave Panic Button app, and nearly 88 percent show as live users which means school personnel have “geo-fenced” their campus, named their buildings, and added some staff into the system.

At the time that Rave became a school safety solution in Oklahoma, Dr. Migliorino stated, “The safety and security of our students and staff is our top priority and I know the same is true in every school district across the state. This is one more critical tool we can use to be prepared for whatever situations may arise and to keep our students and staff safe.”

Migliorino’s values and vision have helped the Oklahoma school system to be the safety leader that it is today.

Nominee: Ed Kemnitzer, East Williston Union Free School District
Nominated by: Bluum    

Since the recent pandemic and subsequent federal spending regarding technology tools in the classroom can be overwhelming to many schools and their leaders, many school administrators have clamored for an education technology partner to help navigate those choppy waters. With the need for guidance on what and how to purchase technology to truly help improve learning outcomes at an all-time high, the company Bluum launched Strategic Advisory Planning Services for its education partners this past year.

It is a three-phase process in which the company’s technology and education experts help school districts assess where there is a need for edtech and how they should implement it into their schools at little or no cost. But in order to launch services such as this, trusted partners and education technology experts at the schools are needed to provide the feedback necessary to make the program truly valuable for educators.

That is where East Williston Union Free School District Director of Technology, Innovation and Information Services Ed Kemnitzer from New York came in. Ed was one of the early adopters of the service provided by Bluum and helped pilot the program for eight months. Ed selflessly volunteered his time and energy to assist the Bluum Education Services Team with countless insights in developing these services for schools.

Although Ed said that the experience was beneficial to learning more about what his district needed as well, his knowledge in strategic planning, budgets, working with the school board, federal funding, and other acumen were invaluable to the Bluum team as they designed their programs. Ed understands that districts scratch and claw for every technology dollar in their budget and the counsel he provided Bluum will allow the company to assist countless others in those efforts.               

Nominee: Emily Herring, Fairfield City Schools
Nominated by: EmpowerU, Inc. 

Emily Herring is a champion of students!

Emily works tirelessly to support the needs of all students–particularly students who are struggling in the traditional school setting and who have been temporality transitioned to an Alternative Learning Site.

Emily has taken it upon herself to generate grant money to connect students at the ALC with EmpowerU to feel empowered to transition back to their traditional school settings with more resilience and coping skills.

Students from Emily’s district who take EmpowerU share feeling increased self-value and confidence.

Emily helps students tap into their highest potential every day by meeting them where they are at with belief in them and connecting them with resources like EmpowerU to support them as a a whole person.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Nominee: FlexPoint Education Cloud
Nominated by: Mary Stevens, Florida Virtual School        

The vision of Florida Virtual School (FLVS), a fully accredited online K-12 public school district, has always been to transform education worldwide. To that end, FLVS launched FlexPoint Education Cloud, enabling them to partner with schools and districts around the nation and worldwide to help them quickly and effectively transition teachers and students to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

In the 2020-21 school year, the FlexPoint team helped more than 160 new schools and districts around the nation launch their first online learning programs during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, to help educators who were new to online learning during, FlexPoint helped train more than 14,000 education professionals nationwide, equaling more than 500 hours of professional development.

In Florida, FLVS saw success through state testing results and surveys. The 2021 state testing results showed that FLVS students scored 21 percent higher in English and 11 percent higher in math than the state average. Additionally, FLVS supported Florida schools and districts by training more than 10,000 teachers statewide and provided ongoing support. 

To help even more students, families, and educators around the nation who were new to online learning FLVS launched the Online Learning Community (OLC).  OLC gave educators the resources they needed and offered an online community where they could ask questions, connect with others, and feel confident as they educated students in a virtual environment. 

Additionally, in response to COVID’s substantial impact on mental health, FLVS added nearly 50 student services professionals to support students and families, providing them with resources, webinars, and trainings to help them through a time of great change and stress. 

During the pandemic, FLVS went above and beyond to support students, parents, and educators in Florida and across the nation–putting students at the center of every decision they made.

Nominee: Florida Virtual School             
Nominated by: SAP Concur         

It’s with great pleasure that SAP Concur nominates Florida Virtual School (FLVS) and Kelly Goodman, Expense Management Manager, for the eSchool News K-12 Hero Award.  We believe that Florida Virtual is a great choice for the award as they have embraced technology to become one of the world’s leaders in online education.

FLVS has been leading the way in K-12 online education since 1997. They provide a robust, award-winning curriculum to public, private, charter, and homeschool families and school districts nationwide. They are accredited by Cognia and offer supportive online learning to students both in Florida and around the world.

FLVS’s 5 core values–Excellence, Innovation, Community, Balance, and Communication–energize and guide its team members in their daily pursuits to achieve their vision. They lead online education worldwide with innovative digital solutions that individualize learning for each student, and they equip students for success by developing and delivering highly effective digital learning through an intuitive online platform. 

Nominee: Cory Hocker, Golden Eagle Charter School
Nominated by: Kajeet    

We are nominating Cory for his commitment to ensuring connectivity for students in need during the ongoing fire seasons in California. Cory ensures their school is prepared to serve displaced students in need of connectivity during wildfires.

Most recently, while experiencing the McKinney Fire, he was moving equipment from the red zone while managing connectivity and access for students. Wearing the many hats of an IT Director is challenging enough, and Cory goes above and beyond each year to assist students during fire season and evacuations, which are unpredictable and can be devastating for students when they are relocated.                                                                                                                        

Nominee: Green Bay Area Public Schools                                         
Nominated by: JAR Systems, LLC                             

JAR Systems has chosen to nominate Green Bay Area Public Schools for the K-12 Hero Awards due to its unrivaled commitment to student success. Green Bay recently invested in 20,000 Chromebooks to move the district to a 1:1 student-to-device ratio to advance students’ productivity and learning in classrooms.

Due to the mass increase of devices, the district began to experience some difficulties with keeping the devices charged and ready for learning. To combat this issue, the district purchased Adapt4 Charging Stations for its secondary schools to alleviate the challenges of uncharged devices in the classrooms. The yellow power banks included in the Adapt4 Charging Stations allowed students to charge their devices at the desk without the district needing to modify infrastructure or create fire/trip hazards with power cords. In turn, this increased productivity and reduced disruptions to learning in the secondary school classrooms.

In the district’s elementary schools, the main priority involved keeping students’ devices charged while maximizing space in the classrooms. To achieve this, Green Bay took the initiative to purchase Essential USB-C Charging Stations that are designed to fit various device sizes and types, which allowed teachers to maximize space in the classroom. The Essential Charging Station can also be wall-mounted, saving even more classroom space compared to that of a traditional cart and allowing for an ideal learning environment.

Green Bay Area Public Schools not only took steps towards a 1:1 student-to-device ratio during unprecedented times, but it also recognized potential disruptions to learning and took the initiative to alleviate these challenges. Green Bay’s initiatives display its commitment to student success by providing an idealistic environment for learning. During an unprecedented time of uncertainty, Green Bay Area Public Schools went above and beyond to educate students when demands on schools and districts were thought impossible. JAR Systems would like to nominate Green Bay Area Schools for the K-12 Hero Awards to recognize its dedication to its students’ prosperity and learning.    

Nominee: Hardee County School District              
Nominated by: JAR Systems, LLC              

JAR Systems is nominating Hardee School District (FL) for its exceptional response to rapid change in its students’ and teachers’ requirements for digital learning. The district serves a diverse population in a rural county with many titled government programs and a large ESOL program.

The technology team, led by Director of Technology and Information Systems Todd Markel, has implemented a technology plan that emphasizes equitable learning opportunities and equips students with the resources needed to thrive in a global society.

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, they quickly recognized that the wiring of AC adapters into their charging stations was holding them back in several ways. The wiring and rewiring were costing the district time and resources and the AC adapters were better off used for other purposes. In response, they made a significant investment in upgrading their charging infrastructure. Instead of buying all new stations, they were able to leverage the ones they already had and upgrade them with Quick-Sense USB-C PD Charging Hubs. This effectively eliminated cable management tasks and created a more user-friendly experience for teachers and students in the classroom.

The district’s longstanding partnership with JAR Systems helped it toward a path of scalable growth and technological advancement that bolstered its ability to meet the needs of its increasingly digital curriculum. 


Nominee: Heather Magill, Palm Beach County School District                     
Nominated by: Edmentum           

When it comes to educators, pinpointing one single superhero power is difficult due to how much they undertake and execute daily. Educators put their energies toward making the world a little bit better, whether it be through a be a global reach or affecting a single student. The purpose always remains—simply support students in finding their way. This is exactly the purpose Heather Magill embodies.

Ms. Magill challenges her students to be their best self and presents opportunities that might never be considered. She provides a world full of possibilities.

Ms. Magill recognizes that not every child comes to the table with equal or expansive experiences and opportunities. To address the disparity, she established the foundation needed to create a viable STEM program with holistic values for her school. It now offers STEM elective classes and houses robotics and coding courses that integrate science, technology, engineering, arts, and math into one learning experience, while reinforcing real-world application. With the Advanced STEM students, she focuses on design engineering projects centered around NASA’s Growing Beyond Earth (GBE) trials, where she guides students to collect data on possible plants that could be used on the International Space Station, as well as the Stiles Nicholson STEM Inventor 3D print challenges. Using various expert speakers, programs, and virtual field trips, she demonstrates to students the unique opportunities that extend outside of their community.

Ms. Magill uses the process of instruction to get to know her students, build community, and present possibilities. She guides her students to personal heights in their question-answer-question cycle of discovery. She teaches them how to be limitless in their thinking and to consider the unconsidered. She does this while maintaining a high level of proficiency and mastery in the classroom. Digital resources like Edmentum’s Study Island are as much a part of the process as conferences with NASA and collaboration with PBS.

Ms. Magill uses knowledge of her students to find opportunities and outside grants to support the learning at the edges. By partnering with the community to support, expose, and create opportunity, Ms. Magill finds unique learning chances for her students.

These adventures and opportunities work in concert with teaching of standards and the curriculum of Palm Beach County SD. She uses that data derived from Edmentum’s Study Island to monitor understanding and learning. She teaches her students to be digital citizens as well as to use technology resources to monitor comprehension, perform critical analysis of content, and build self confidence that quickly translates to academic confidence.

Hear more about Heather Magill’s Why, her 2020 Dwyer Award, or her work with PBS and advocating for her student to participate in the documentary “Hidden Wild.” You can also read about her work with the Environmental Resource Management creating new science curriculum. Or engage in some of the Virtual Field Trip she has been developing with Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources. The Department began working with Ms. Heather to do virtual field trips for Palm Beach County students in April 2020.

Nominee: Hemet Unified School District
Nominated by: Lexia Learning    

Hemet district leaders knew they had a literacy issue when their district data showed that only 16 percent of its 22,000 students in TK-12 were reading at or above grade level. And while every school site was a bit different, it was clear that they were dealing with major access and equity issues.

It was at this point that the 26-school district created a new director of literacy and intervention position, taking the stance that reading intervention was needed across most grades.

Working together, the district began to dig in and dive deeper into the root causes of the problem. Ready for a change, they started to broaden their understanding of the science of reading and did a book study on Shifting the Balance by Jan Burkins and Kari Yates.

Research led the district to learn more about and select Lexia’s Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) professional development suite. It piqued their interest because of its longevity in the marketplace, it was developed by literacy experts Dr. Louisa Moats, Dr. Carol Tolman, and Dr. Lucy Hart Paulson, and it provided them with a program that gave teachers the flexibility to learn on their own time in their own space and from the comfort of their own home. It also brought them together to work collaboratively across district roles.

To ensure a successful overhaul of their professional development platform, district leaders took these steps:

  • Developed a plan of action. Beginning January 1, 2022, the district began offering the professional development curriculum to those teachers who requested it. It laid out a plan for the first full year of use and put together a scope and sequence of professional development that would kick off for the 2022-23 school year, with the first unit starting in March 2022.
  • Use cohorts. District leaders established two different cohorts, including a group of 500 “first adopters” out of 1,3000 educators from grades TK-12 that started in March 2022 and a second cohort that started in August 2022.
  • Make it worth their while. Teachers are paid hourly for the time spent completing the professional development units and attending the workshops. The district also offers the platform to its administrators, all of whom are participating in the program (and, also being compensated for that participation).
  • Get everyone onboard. District leaders also brought in the district’s executive cabinet, special education program specialists, and other stakeholders into the system. It wanted everyone to understand that they are all teachers of literacy—whether they are teaching kindergarten, science class or auto shop.

Embracing a Paradigm Shift

In the end, there is a great deal of talk about equity among students, but where is the equity for teachers? And how are districts providing equitable access to the science of reading and really helping to prepare them and not leaving it to chance?

Hemet USD is a shining example of working collaboratively to drive a paradigm shift in teaching and learning for the sake of its most valuable assets – teachers and students.

Nominee: Jefferson County Public Schools
Nominated by: FEV Tutor            

Tutoring has received a lot of attention as a key strategy for helping to stem unfinished learning for K-12 students due to COVID disruptions and to close longstanding achievement gaps that have grown even wider during the pandemic. Even after heroic efforts by educators to continue teaching remotely, in-person, or via hybrid learning models, many learners have fallen behind. The impacted students are, not surprisingly, the ones who were underserved before the pandemic: low-income students, students without access to technology, special education students, and English Language Learners.

One urban district, Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) in Louisville, Kentucky, was determined to turn the tide for its 96,000 students and launched a partnership with FEV Tutor, the leading provider of online, high-dosage tutoring and an ESSA Level 2 Intervention and Evidence-Based Program that received the Product Design Certificate through Digital Promise.

Beginning in December 2020, the district connected its students with intentional tutoring–that being ongoing, curriculum and instruction-based, standards-aligned academic support when and where they needed it. The district was able to rapidly deploy FEV Tutor by implementing swift integrations like Clever for rostering, Single Sign On (SSO), and sharing NWEA MAP Growth data for data-driven instruction.

By reshaping its academic support for students using high impact tutoring and incorporating the Design Principles for Effective Tutoring from the renowned Annenberg Institute, including high-frequency and dosage with three or more session per week, tutoring offered during the school day, consistent tutors, and data-driven for personalized instruction, the district was convinced it was on the right track.

To confirm that its efforts were delivering positive results, JCPS activated its NWEA MAP Growth data connection with the tutoring platform and its data analytics team conducted a Winter-to-Spring AY21-22 academic growth analysis comparing RIT Score Growth across various attendance bands of tutoring participation.

From this intensive yet collaborative effort, amazing results have been realized:

  • To date, more than 60,000 hours of live, one-to-one instruction have been delivered to 7,000 students in 116 JCPS schools. The online tutoring sessions have been available to students in grades 3-12 and focus on the core subjects of math, English, science, and social studies.
  • FEV Tutor participants demonstrated accelerated rates of growth relative to non-participants in both math and reading. Students who participated in higher dosages of FEV Tutor showed additional gains. Students who participated in recommended dosages of tutoring demonstrated 78 percent accelerated growth relative to non-participants in math and 74 percent accelerated growth relative to non-participating in reading.
  • In all, the district demonstrated accelerated, double-digit rates of growth (32 percent) relative to national norms in both math and reading on the NWEA MAP Growth Assessments.

It goes without saying that the real heroes of this story are the students who are making up for the ground they lost over the past 24+ months. But this ‘good news’ story would not be possible without the heroic efforts of JCPS district administrators and teachers who continue to work tirelessly to implement a successful, high-impact tutoring effort designed for learning acceleration.    

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Laura Ascione

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