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Superintendent Recognized by White House as Leader in Digital Learning

As Godfrey-Lee Public Schools superintendent, David Britten put the district on the cutting edge of digital education by implementing a one-to-one laptop program in 2009, before many other schools had done so.

Since then the approximately 2,000-student district has stayed at the forefront of technology use in education. In 2013 Godfrey-Lee received a $550,000 School Improvement Grant, with the bulk going toward technology which officials used to purchase MacBook Air and Pro laptops and iPads.

Washington, D.C., officials have taken notice of Britten, a prolific blogger, social media user and technology-savvy administrator. The U.S. Army officer was selected by the U.S. Department of Education as one of 100 school leaders to participate in the first-ever National Connected Superintendents Summit at the White House. He was recognized for leadership in helping the district make the transition to digital learning.  

“I personally knew the value of technology in learning and in evolving careers,” said Britten, who leads the district with the most economically disadvantaged students in Kent County.

“When I took on the district in 2008-09, I wanted to be sure our students had the same access to technology as I began to see in some of the progressive schools around the country. I didn’t want their socioeconomic status to hold them back.”

Godfrey-Lee began with a five-year vision of providing every secondary student with a digital device, beginning with sixth grade. Money from  the SIG grant and bond funds put the district two years ahead of its timeline. Officials have evolved the program as a hybrid of 1:1 plus bring your own device, allowing students and staff members to use the device of their choice.Godfrey-Lee Superintendent David Britten stands in front to the podium at the White House

Next up: more devices at the elementary school, programming, coding and 3D printing, Britten said.

A Day at the White House

At the summit, Britten and other school leaders met with President Barack Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and a host of other U.S. Department of Education and senior administration officials to discuss promising approaches to using technology in the classroom.

A big focus was connecting students with tools they need for digital technology learning. The Obama Administration’s strategic plan, the ConnectEd Initiative, aims to connect all schools to high-speed Internet and provide digital technology learning tools to every student.

“Districts and schools need dynamic, empowered leadership to prepare their schools for the future,” Britten said. “I was amazed that less than 40 percent of schools provide devices and connectivity to high-speed Internet outside of an occasional shared computer or static computer lab.”

Every school superintendent in the country was asked to sign a pledge with the president to make districts “Future Ready” and committing to the following:

  • Fostering and leading a culture of collaboration and digital citizenship;

  • Transitioning schools and families to high-speed connectivity;

  • Empowering educators with professional learning opportunities;

  • Accelerating progress toward universal access to quality devices;

  • Providing access to quality digital content;

  • Creating access, equity and excellence – particularly in rural, remote and low-income districts;

  • Offering digital tools to students and families to help them prepare for success in college;

  • Sharing best practices and mentoring other districts in the transition to digital learning.

“School districts across the country are helping teachers harness the power of technology to create personal learning environments for all students,” said Secretary of Education Duncan in a press release.  “We want to make sure every child – whether he or she is in the inner-city, in a rural community or on a Native American reservation – has access to knowledge and the chance to learn 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Twelve to 15 planned regional meetings will focus on what school districts have in place and what could be possible with digital technology.  The events will also include the unveiling of digital tools that facilitate incorporation of technology into short-term and long-range education planning.

Britten said schools moving forward need to include student voices in technology planning, provide ongoing teacher training, and empower teachers to be innovative and take risks.

“In the end, high-quality instruction is still the difference-maker, with digital technology opening up new avenues for communicating, collaborating, creating and publishing within a flexible learning environment. Great teaching is still the equalizer, not specific types of technology.”


Washington, D.C., Conference

Dave Britten’s Blog

ConnectED Initiative

Future Ready Pledge

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


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