Friday, September 18, 2015

U.S. Ed Secretary's back-to-school bus tour
includes two Illinois stops

Two Illinois communities received visits from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on his sixth annual back-to-school bus tour, dubbed “Ready for Success.” Duncan stopped by Williamsfield CUSD 210 on Tuesday, September 15 and then made his way over to the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana on Wednesday, September 16.

The "Ready for Success!" bus pulls into Williamsfield.

Tuesday’s stop highlighted the small, rural district’s move away from textbooks, focusing capital on technology infrastructure and utilizing high-quality, openly licensed digital education resources.

Williamsfield CUSD201 students
demonstrate their smart-energy project.
During the stopover, students showcased their STEM Learning Exchange Challenge project in which they developed a smart-grid energy system that would be able to provide power for the town and school. The students pointed out how the new technology resources and availability of 1-to-1 devices made the project possible.

Later in the afternoon Duncan, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis, and the Williamsfield administration and staff sat down for a roundtable discussion regarding the district's utilization of open educational resources.

Williamsfield principal and director of student services Zach Binder talked about the transition from traditional textbooks to new, openly licensed materials. Binder said the school was faced with the opportunity to either purchase new textbooks or go in a different direction. They decided to invest textbook funds instead in updated infrastructure that would support more technology in the classroom.

Talk of transition during the U.S. Secretary of Education's
first stop in Illinois.
“Textbooks are out of date by the time we receive them,” said Binder. “We found it worthwhile to look at new materials that are innovative and that don’t have an expiration date.”

Purvis said that the state’s role is to learn what is working and adapt to new techniques and the tools available.

“This is the type of model we need for the state,” stressed Purvis as she referred to the innovation at Williamsfield. “It’s a difficult time with limited resources. Schools are trying to do more with less. We can build on this success and replicate this process across the state.”

Secretary Duncan went on to talk about the importance of sharing success stories such as Williamsfield.

“This is leadership in action. To hear teachers talk about what their classrooms are like is phenomenal. This opens up a new world of opportunities,” Duncan reiterated. “We need to highlight and tell these stories. This is a really big deal.”

The second Illinois stop on the tour gave Duncan an inside look at U of I’s Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) programs. The University of Illinois was one of the first colleges in the nation to offer educational programming for students with disabilities.

During the university visit Duncan, Assistant Secretary for Special Education Michael Yudin, and Illinois Board of Higher Education Executive Director James Applegate held a roundtable discussion with students about the DRES programs and accompanying resources available to help them with their studies.

The group also joined the men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball team for practice.

In additional to the Illinois visits the “Ready for Success” tour made stops in Missouri, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. A video about the bus tour is available here, and updates from the tour can be found on Twitter at #ReadyForSuccess.