Considering a Large-Scale Technology Integration? Learn From These 6 School Districts

How schools are preparing students for their technology-infused futures. These educators and administrations are thinking critically about how to fold digital tools and resources into existing pedagogy to promote learning and professional development.

November 06, 2013
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES Digital Citizenship, Professional Development, Technology Integration

We’ve compiled a list of six schools and districts that aren’t just passively using technology, but are truly integrating it into their classrooms. These educators and administrations are thinking critically about how to fold digital tools and resources into existing pedagogy to promote learning and professional development.

This list is not a definitive one. We’d love to hear from you about schools and districts using technology in inspiring ways. Share your examples in the comment section below. We might just feature it next time!  

Photo by Brad Flickinger


Sunnyside Unified School DistrictTucson, AZ

 Follow on Twitter: Lyndsey Layton, Sunnyside USD, and Arne Duncan

Sunnyside Unified School District (SUSD) is one of a few school districts in the country that has been eliminating its paper trail -- and heavy backpacks -- one grade at a time. Four years ago, the district switched to an all-digital curriculum for grades 4-12 and has plans to convert its earliest grades as well. “We are eliminating textbooks. We have invested in technology,” Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo told Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in a recent article in the Washington Post. “Everybody needs Internet. It is our basic civil right,” he said. Duncan agreed, calling Sunnyside a “national model” for its use of technology and increased success, despite economic hardships.

SUSD’s population is 86 percent low-income, yet its graduation rate rose by more than 43 percent from 2007 to 2010, and the district has maintained that rate. The school is more than just “tech-savvy,” too, with teachers deliberately using technology in thoughtful ways that improve learning. An English teacher, for example, encouraged her students listen to “The Odyssey” on their cellphones, according to the Washington Posts’ Lyndsey Layton.


Pine Glen Elementary School – Burlington, MA

 Follow on Twitter: Patrick Larkin and Pine Glen 

Teachers at Pine Glen have the option to tailor technology to their specific needs and classroom routines, as each student in grades 4 and 5 has been assigned their own iPads. Some teachers use apps to replace worksheets and narrated slideshows rather than poster board presentations. Others are using sites like Twitter to jumpstart their lessons. Most important, their top concern is prepping youth for their technology-saturated futures, rather than only improving standardized test scores. “We’re not MCAS-driven,” said Burlington Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Learning Patrick Larkin on standardized testing. “We’re more interested in preparing students for the workplaces of the future.”


Mooresville Graded School District – Mooresville, NC

 Follow on Twitter: Bethany Smith and Mooresville Graded School District

Superintendent of Mooresville Public Schools Mark Edwards had been championing 1-to-1 education as a “pathway to equity” long before he joined the district in 2007. Since then, he’s realized that there’s more to technology than just leveling the playing field. Edwards, who received the Common Sense Media Educator of the Year award in 2013, found that 1-to-1 curriculums can be adaptable to youths’ needs, as well as enable teachers to more efficiently use their classroom time.

Mooresville students are now using a customizable program called “Study Island,” which generates comprehensive, holistic reports of students’ learning. From there, teachers can assign specific subject areas for students to work on, based on their individual needs and opportunities. The secret to its success? English teacher Bethany Smith told American Radio Works she thinks it’s because the program can be tailored to students’ needs. “It doesn't help a child to just keep saying, ‘Try harder, try harder, try harder,’" she said. "If they really don't know what they need to try harder on, or what they need to practice, then how is their overall score going to improve?"

While administrators acknowledge that technology is not the only factor in the improvements they’ve seen in their school, it’s a factor that’s hard to ignore.


New Trier Township High School & Adlai E. Stevenson High School – Chicagoland, IL

 Follow on Twitter: Stevenson HS

These two schools, located just outside of Chicago, are both in the process of large-scale iPad rollouts. “It’s important for us to meet kids where they are, and right now, they’re online,” said Eric Twadell, superintendent at Stevenson. The high school supplied iPads to about 15 percent of its 4,000 students in the 2012 school year, with plans to increase that to 55 percent this year and 100 percent in 2014. “In the long run, we see this as a little bit less expensive than all the textbooks that we’re purchasing,” he said, adding, “There is an electronic world out there that kids need to be taught to work with.”

This brief video details how specific teachers are utilizing iPads in new ways at Adlai Stevenson High School

Nearby, New Trier is following a similar approach with its 4,200 students. Both schools, however, are more committed to adapting to the ever-changing education landscape, which is now more affected than ever by new technology. “We can’t say we’re committing to the iPad in perpetuity,” said Chris Johnson, director of technology at New Trier, but “we’re committing to the change in how we teach and learn.”


The Center Grove Community School Corporation  – Greenwood, Indiana

 Follow on Twitter: Julie Bohnenkamp and Center Grove Community School

Teachers and students at The Center Grove Community School Corporation regularly use technology to communicate and collaborate. With leadership from Julie Bohnenkamp, the district’s award-winning director of technology, the district has installed hundreds of multimedia classrooms where teachers have access to projectors, cameras, screens and DVD players. The technology department was recently awarded a classroom innovation grant from the Indiana Department of Education to integrate iPads into the kindergarten, special education, and English language learner classrooms in the elementary schools. The district is also working on digital eLibrary, an interactive online science curriculum, and a 1:1 initiative at the high school. Bohnenkamp is capturing her lessons learned on this blog.


Maine Public Schools

 Follow on Twitter: Maine Department of Education

Maine was one of the earliest pioneers in educational technology. The state’s Department of Education began a 1-to-1 program in 2002, when it was almost unheard of elsewhere in the country. Jeff Mao, the department’s learning technology policy director, has overseen the program since the beginning, and earned the Common Sense Media Educator of the Year award in 2012 for his decade-long efforts.

Thanks to Mao, the state’s program emphasizes digital citizenship and literacy, and even uses some of our curriculum materials to supplement school programming. Mao discussed the evolution of the program with us last year. “The vision of digital citizenship in 2002 would have been, don’t type in all caps because that’s shouting,” said Mao. “As social media rose up, we realized kids are now living online and that must drive policy changes in how we support schools,” he said, adding, “How is technology going to force us to rethink our policies? That’s what we mean when we talk about vision.”