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IFL takes big step into Broward County, Fla., classrooms

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In one of its biggest expansions yet, Innovations for Learning’s programs are headed this fall to 120 classrooms in Broward County, Fla, — an aggressive effort to teach some 2,160 young students to read.

The Broward County Public Schools, based in Fort Lauderdale, announced the partnership with IFL today. The initiative is to begin in August, when the fall semester begins.

Plans call for scores of digital devices — laptops, iPads and iPod Touches — to be provided to kindergarten and first-grade classrooms in some of the county’s poorest neighborhoods. The non-profit IFL will share in the costs for the equipment, as well as support staff needed to make the program run smoothly.

Robert W. Runcie, Broward’s superintendent, is an enthusiastic supporter of the initiative, which relies on 21st century tools and old-fashioned one-on-one attention from caring adults to bring reading skills to children who would otherwise lack the readiness to succeed in school.

“This initiative is critical because students who do not master the art of reading by the end of first grade are severely impacted, across all content areas, throughout their academic career,” Runcie said in a statement. “Early intervention, that is personalized to each student’s needs, is critical in improving the rates of students who enter our second grade classrooms as proficient readers on or above grade level.”

United Way of Broward will help in the effort to recruit volunteers from the business world to tutor the children, giving one-half hour a week to help them with their lessons remotely, using the Internet and telephones to communicate from their work places to the kids’ classrooms.

“This is a one of a kind program in our district that leverages technology to maximize personalized literacy instruction and provides a unique opportunity for community leaders to tutor students in a manner, which minimally impacts their schedule, “ said Dr. Marie Wright. the district’s executive director, for instruction and interventions.

Innovations for Learning is equally excited.

“Broward is the rare example of a large urban school district that was able to see an innovative idea and move it through their process with enthusiasm and move it through quickly,” said Barbara Gilbert, IFL’s national education director. “Normally, it gets very complicated and take a long time or you have departmental issues. Broward had none of that. It was very collaborative.”

— Photo (left to right):  Seth Weinberger, IFL Founder and CEO, Dr. Marie Wright, Executive Director, Instruction & Interventions, Broward County Public Schools, Superintendent Robert W. Runcie, Broward County Public Schools, and Barbara Gilbert, IFL National Education Director.
Photo and story by Howard Goodman.
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Staff reflections: Barbara Gilbert

In this series, “Staff Reflections,” we introduce the members of the Innovations for Learning team, who will tell us what brought them to our organization and why they’re excited to do this work. 
Today: Barbara Gilbert, National Education Director.

DSC_0017 - Version 2I came to Innovations for Learning because of a passion for its mission: spreading  blended learning models and digital learning in order to individualize instruction for kids.

I’ve worked as a building principal, then in the for-profit e-learning sector for 15 years. I kept seeing a recurring issue: Districts spent millions of dollars on technology and software only to see it “sit on the shelf” after a year or so.

Vendors came in with a sexy PowerPoint promising incredible gains, the latest in functionality, real technological change and ease of use.  Yet education as a whole does not look much different than a classroom from 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

If you were to take away the desks, chairs and chalkboard (whiteboard) in a classroom, the teacher would be frantic; however if you were to remove the four or five computers that might be sitting in the back of the classroom, the impact would most likely be minimal.

Why?  Because the technology still is not integral to a teacher’s daily instruction.  To really be effective, digital learning requires a change in instructional design, in the daily schedule, in how instruction is delivered.

Most of all, digital learning requires simple, raw change.  Change is hard unless you have a mentor, a coach, a solid partner.

That is what IFL is.  We are that solid partner.  We seek out innovative districts that want to implement sustainable, blended learning models, and help them get there.

The IFL model is unique in that we provide digital technology along with a fulltime, on-site Teacher Ambassador, so that technology becomes essential to a teacher’s daily instruction. We stay with our partner districts year after year to ensure the success of this blended model. And we help provide the funding to do it!

As the National Director of Education, I am charged with finding the innovative districts to partner with, then working to ensure the integrity of those partner-relationships through the years.

Though I live in Seattle, my office is … the nation!  I meet with district leaders across the U.S. to share our nonprofit work and to discuss what a partnership entails.  After multiple meetings it becomes clear rather quickly if our innovative work is a fit for the district. 

My work is amazingly rewarding — I’m able to see changes that make an impact in classrooms. I work with some of the most savvy innovators in public education. And I serve an organization that truly desires to be a true partner to school districts.

Barbara Gilbert
bgilbert@innovationsforlearning.org
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