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Illinois district leverages technology to engage students in learning

Web-based student management suite from Skyward motivates learners to stay in touch and on task

When Michael Lubelfeld came to Deerfield Public Schools District 109 (Ill.) last summer, the superintendent known as a super-communicator knew that engaging students was crucial to their education. So the new superintendent leveraged the district’s technology, including school administration software, to keep students in regular contact with teachers, administrators and each other. “My administration is centered on clear communication and a healthy organizational culture and climate,” says Lubelfeld, whose K8 district is about 25 miles north of Chicago and six miles west of Lake Michigan. “We want to understand how satisfied all stakeholders—students, parents, community members—are with our services, how engaged students are in their work and how this translates to success in the classroom.”

His engagement mission got a boost from Google Apps for Education, which allows students to create documents, slides and spreadsheets, as well as to email anyone within the school’s domain. “Children are collaborating on projects, and teachers are providing real-time feedback in the cloud,” Lubelfeld says. “We’re also experimenting with Google Sites and other Google Apps for Education features. It is especially helping the more introverted students find their voice because the collaborative aspect of the Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc., allows for a level playing field in terms of input and communication.” Aiding the district in these efforts is administrative software leader Skyward, whose electronic messaging service Skylert has been keeping all stakeholders engaged in education, Lubelfeld says. Last year, for example, Skylert was used to email members of a task force that had shaped middle school programming—leading to new STEM and communication media arts electives, as well as a “Welcome to Sixth Grade” evening program that included a student-made YouTube video.

“It was a really cool engagement process,” Lubelfeld says. “Students, along with parents and teachers, had input on science labs, activity nights, electives. They had a voice on a large scale because we used a sophisticated communication array.” “Students told me they appreciated getting emails from me,” Lubelfeld adds. “They felt good that they were engaged in the process.” This past fall, the district rolled out a 1-to-1 computer program to expand student use of technology in the classroom. To gauge feedback, Lubelfeld surveyed students and parents via Skylert. Like other surveys—on everything from content of emails to satisfaction with education and facilities—the response rate was more than 70 percent, Lubelfeld says.

“Our parents and students are very engaged, and that helps us maintain excellence in all areas,” he says. “Kids get a kick out of our emails to them. And while they might not be crazy about their parents seeing their grades or that they handed in something late, we find value in families having access to this information. Everyone is more engaged that way.” Parents have access to their student’s class information—as well as school policies and events—through Skyward’s Family Access, which was introduced to Deerfield about three years ago. Parents simply log in to the program and stay connected. Family Access also allows administrators to communicate with parents via email, text or automated telephone calls featuring the voice of the superintendent or building principal. “We can see who has read an email, skimmed it or deleted it without opening,” Lubelfeld says. “Teachers can then reach out to parents who have not downloaded their student’s report card, for example, to be sure everyone is staying engaged.”

To learn more about Skyward, visit skyward.com.