Yorktown Community Schools has a culture of “embracing what’s next.”
Those are words from the district’s director of eLearning and Curricular Innovation, Holly Stachler, who is ushering students and teachers into the future and opening their minds to the possibilities of technology.
The district, about an hour north of Indianapolis, Indiana, already has a one-to-one device program where students use a mix of both iPads and Dell laptops so that they become familiar with both platforms. But Stachler said the environment of the district, which has about 2,500 students, is what makes it unique.
“What makes our district innovative is that we are willing to try new things,” she said in an interview with EdScoop. “All of our stakeholders, including students, parents and the administration, are accepting of a 21st century learning environments.”
Stachler was named a NextGen Leader by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and EdScoop in a national program to recognize rising leaders in K-12 education technology. She will be recognized along with her fellow finalists at the annual CoSN conference this month in Chicago.
Stachler plays a key role in development curriculum and policy, and she has to some extent filled the capacity of technology director. She also does all the professional development for teachers on new tools and devices.
“I do all teacher PD to make sure they are trained in how to [use technology], and I provide support to students as well as far as their access and online course availability,” said Stachler, who is serving her fourth year on the job.
The level of professional development at Yorktown is arguably on another plane from many other districts — Stachler runs a blended learning professional-development program, which means teachers can choose how they receive their training.
“They have some choice in what information they get live, what information they get digitally and then they get a choice in how they apply what they’re learning,” she said.
She said giving educators autonomy in the way they learn is useful, since the training is mandatory. She added that giving them the experience of being digital learners also helps them better understand how to be digital instructors.
“I put them in the role of a student in a digital learning environment and myself as a teacher, and then I can model best practices in digital learning,” she said. “Then they can take that back to their own classrooms and model that format for their own students.”
Stachler called it her “biggest accomplishment” in her role, to allow teachers to experience digital learning firsthand.
In line with the blended learning experiences for teachers, Stachler, a former elementary school teacher, is also trying to create those same environments for students.
“We are looking to implement some more project-based learning and develop more of a true blended learning experience for our students,” she said. “A true blended learning model means that the students have some control over their space in which they learn, the path which they take.”
When Stachler isn’t focusing on her own students and teachers, she offers forums on different models of learning to other districts. Yorktown has hosted teachers and administrators from several other districts, including Richmond Community Schools and Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township, for the past four years. “We try to collaborate and spread our experiences,” she said.