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Superintendent’s Message: Innovate 54 teams prepare kids for the future

Innovation, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is quite simply “the introduction of something new.”

However, when we talk about innovation in School District 54, we are talking about so much more.

In our ongoing efforts in District 54 to ensure student success, one of the areas we are focused on in our 54 Promise Strategic Plan is “Cultivating Innovation in Learning Space and Instructional Design.”

But what does this mean? It means that we are trying new strategies. However, we are not abandoning practices that have been successful. For example, we will still have staff working in professional learning communities to plan lessons and collaborate to best serve each student. We will continue to have acceleration time because we know that’s what is best for our students.

It is essential that students master the foundational skills taught to them in core subjects, such as math and literacy. However, it is not enough. There are areas for growth, given that we are preparing children today for future success in jobs that don’t yet exist.

District 54 is committed to looking toward that future. We invited teams of teachers – Innovate 54 teams – from each school to begin the process of redefining our schools.  Core components of that redesign include learning partnerships, deep learning tasks and technology as an accelerator.

Learning partnerships address the relationships between students and staff. In a partnership, a teacher isn’t standing in the front of the room lecturing students. Instead, teachers become facilitators and guides as students complete learning tasks.

With deep learning tasks student learning goals focus on both the content of the curriculum as well as the students’ interests and aspirations. Instead of just consuming information from the teacher, students will be creating, growing and seeking new knowledge. Through project-based learning they will explore real-world challenges and create projects that address solutions to those problems. The skills they will learn through that active exploration include communication, collaboration, creativity, critical-thinking and problem-solving – skills that will be valuable no matter what their future holds.

When we talk about innovation, many people immediately think about technology. However, it has long been our stance in District 54 to implement technology only when it serves as the right tool to advance learning. Used correctly, technology allows for individualized learning and promotes creativity with user-friendly tools for video, music, visual arts, and so much more.

What will the future of education look like in District 54? I can’t tell you exactly.

What I can promise you today is that we will not make changes for the sake of change. We will not abandon strategies that have served our students well.

We will continue to focus on ensuring the academic success and social-emotional well-being of the 15,000 students in our care and the future students of District 54.

Our Innovate 54 teams will reconvene at the end of October to continue exploring what are the right changes we need to make to prepare our students for the future. It is an exciting time to work in District 54.