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Tech Transformation: How Investing in Technology Supercharges Education in District 191

Tech Transformation: How Investing in Technology Supercharges Education in District 191

In today's dynamic, diverse and evolving educational landscape, technology has become the silent yet powerful ally reshaping how students learn, teachers instruct, and schools innovate. No one knows this better than District 191 Director of Technology Rachel Gorton.

Now in her third year as director, Gorton has seen many changes during her 14 years in education, but the pace of change currently taking place in technology is unfolding like never before.

“Kids in the early grades today will be using devices and programs in high school that haven’t been created yet,” Gorton said. "This is exciting and requires us to continually look forward as we plan.”

Keeping up with the almost constant changes in technology is hard enough. Paying for it may be even harder. Since 2015, District 191 has used funding from a voter-approved tech levy to provide students and staff with digital devices, software, and the infrastructure they need to operate. 

“What the tech levy does is give us a dedicated funding stream for technology,” Gorton said. “Most of it goes to student equipment and support. Because of the tech levy, those are things we don’t have to pay for out of the general fund, and that’s good for students.”

The other major component of the tech levy is safety and security. Through the tech levy, District 191 has added security systems that find and stop cyber attacks earlier.

While the tech equipment and its use can be seen by walking around a school, it’s the behind-the-scenes work that gives District 191 a leg up.

“Cyber security for school districts is completely different from what it was five years ago,” Gorton said. “Schools are being targeted by bad actors. They want to get into our network and system and do bad things. They’re specifically looking to get family, student and staff information that needs to be protected.”

Since voters approved the tech levy in 2015, District 191 has come a long way. “I’m proud of where we are,” Gorton said. “We have a lot of good, foundational things in place.”

Among the first steps that District 191 took after the tech levy passed was to train and equip teachers to use new technologies in their classrooms. Doing so allowed teachers to hit the ground running. “We were able to do a significant amount of professional development with teachers and equip them to help our students,” said Gorton.

In addition to equipping teachers and students, the tech levy provides classroom digital learning specialists so that the district can teach foundational tech skills at the elementary level. By the time students reach the upper grades, they are well acquainted with the technology and how it works. 

And it’s a good thing they are. Whether it’s for study or research, there is not a single area of the curriculum that technology doesn’t touch: biology students can perform online experiments; automotive students can run diagnostics on cars; culinary students can create and analyze recipes; and digital art, multimedia and animation programs all open doors for new learning opportunities.

While the tech equipment and its use can be seen by walking around a school, it’s the behind-the-scenes work that gives District 191 a leg up. Because of the 2015 tech levy, the district was able to build a strong infrastructure and what you don’t see is more impressive than what you do. It’s easy to shrug off until you consider that the district supports:

  • 2,000 Windows devices;

  • more than 9,000 student Chromebooks;

  • audio systems in every classroom;

  • hundreds of access points in every school and district building for robust wifi;

  • computer labs at the high school;

  • 3D printers;

  • phones and both wired and wireless devices;

  • 50 instructional programs, including Schoology and Seesaw;

  • and cybersecurity systems and software.

“You can build a house, but if you don’t have good infrastructure it won’t last,” Gorton said. “There’s a lot of coordination behind the scenes to make sure the end users get access to the things they need in as smooth an experience as possible. The less people have to think about it, the better. It means we’re doing our job.”

Bob Weiler shows how the technology department tracks connectivity for all schools in the district.

None of this would have occurred without the support of the voter approved tech levy. District 191 would have been unable to provide each student with a Chromebook, teachers would have to return to bulky and time-consuming workflows, and families would not have access to the student information they’ve become accustomed to.

Should voters approve a renewal of the tech levy, the majority will be used to replace aging student Chromebooks and enhance classroom technology, labs, and instructional technology. It would also update a variety of software and cybersecurity systems to protect students, families and District 191’s vast network

“Anytime you bring in technology it has a life cycle,” Gorton noted. “The technology allows teachers to use different programs and devices that align with what they’re teaching and makes learning more engaging. Students interact with content so that learning sticks. It offers a variety of inputs to maximize student learning.” 

Non-renewal of the tech levy would also have consequences.

“The biggest thing is students would be missing out on developing a significant skill set,” said Gorton. “Students would be at a significant disadvantage in entering the post-graduate world. There’s just not a job out there that doesn't use technology and some form of digital communication and jobs that require more advanced technology skills are only increasing.”

Wayfinder. Looking through a row of 3D printers

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