I had the opportunity to join the President at the White House recently to sign the Future Ready pledge for transforming education through increased digital learning. The convening drew 109 fellow superintendents in person, and thousands of others virtually. My selection as an attendee was based on the incredible transformation Gurnee District 56, north of Chicago, Illinois, has made in establishing a student-centered learning environment. Buoyed by a 1:1 iPad initiative and a supportive school culture, personalized learning, self-paced instruction, and digital and open source content have become the norm in our school district.
The accolades we have received are based on very real progress which is directly related to how we use technology. Last school year our K-8 students achieved unprecedented targeted growth proficiency in reading, from 56% to 63.5% and math, from 56% to 71%. In recognition of our accomplishments, the district received the Apple Distinguished Program award in November of 2013 and in the spring of 2014, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, lauded the district in his annual speech to shareholders.
As the President said in his speech, we are losing ground in this race to ensure that our children can compete in the 21st century global economy. To reverse this, students must have access to a rich digital learning environment. I have always believed that in order to create change of this magnitude, and compete with countries that are currently Future Ready, we must establish a sense of urgency and make it clear to everyone that nothing less will solve the problem.
The President challenged all of us to carry the torch on behalf of our nation’s children to ensure that we are prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. After his speech—and I believe that I am speaking on behalf of my colleagues—we were convinced of the need to be Future Ready and eagerly accepted his challenge to join him on this journey.
It is now time for us to continue this conversation. As Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton asked, “What will Future Ready look like when we accomplish it?”
Consider these questions:
- Does Future Ready apply to our technology, curriculum, students, teachers, parents, the nation? If so, how will we be able to, in specific terms, describe what Future Ready means?
- How do we make Future Ready an important concept to those school districts that are not even close to being Future Ready?
- For those of us who are committed to this path, how do we ensure that our conversations are practical rather than philosophical?
- How committed are we to helping others rather than spending all of our time and attention on our own school districts?
The President has made it clear that the time to act is now. I look forward to working in unison with my colleagues to make sure that Future Ready is a road map that will protect the greatness of America.
John Hutton is superintendent of Gurnee School District 56 in north suburban Chicago, Illinois. He participated in the President’s “ConnectED to the Future” convening at the White House on Nov. 19.