NJIT Promotes Digital Readiness Across NJ Educational System

Written by: Jesse Jenkins,
New Jersey educators embrace digital learning as NJIT hosts the 2018 Future Ready Schools New Jersey North Regional Certification Summit.

In February, more than 300 educators, superintendents, technology advisors and engaged citizens from districts throughout New Jersey convened at NJIT to promote digital education at the 2018 Future Ready Schools New Jersey (FRS-NJ) North Regional Certification Summit.

As the first of three regional summits — each sponsored by OnCourse Systems for Education — the FRS-NJ north regional summit celebrated a successful inaugural year for the certification program as New Jersey’s leading initiative to grow digital learning environments across the state’s educational system. The event also signified the official launch of FRS-NJ’s 2018 certification cycle, providing a platform for schools to learn the full process of becoming “Future Ready” certified, as well as plan and execute their own digital readiness initiatives.

“Preparing our next generation workforce and citizenry is truly a high stakes venture, and I am so pleased to see that you are at the forefront of leading these efforts, not just in the great state of New Jersey but nationwide,” said Kevin Belfield, dean of the College of Science and Liberal Arts, who addressed a capacity audience inside the Campus Center Ballroom. “I think the nation is watching us and taking our lead in how we transform the education of our students and preparedness of our schools in this digital age. It is truly a transformational point that we are in right now.”

In total, the three regional summits — NJIT, Newark (North) Feb. 22; Bayshore Middle School, Middletown (Central) Feb. 26; and Stockton University (South) Feb. 27 — were estimated to have attracted more than 550 attendees from 120 N.J. districts for the opening of the certification submission phase of the program and the celebration of Digital Learning Day 2018. The week of summits featured more than six times the attendance of the inaugural 2017 FRS-NJ’s Regional Certification Summit.

“When Future Ready was proposed here a few years ago, it was hard to imagine that it would turn into the effort and the dedicated level of commitment that we’ve seen from educators and administrators across the state,” said Belfield.

Kevin Belfield, dean of NJIT's College of Science and Liberal Arts, addresses a capacity audience inside the Campus Center Ballroom.

The events brought together previously certified schools and districts, as well as many aspiring Future Ready educators engaging in the program for the first time. Each of the three summits featured a special presentation from one of the program’s exemplary districts, which shared their successful journey during the 2017 certification cycle. Educators and leaders from the Morris Plains School District guest-presented at the north regional summit.

“From the start of the Future Ready initiative to now, the program has really strengthened our organization, increased awareness within our community and bridged a network of resources that we can tap into that will only benefit us even further,” said Mark Maire, superintendent of schools in Morris Plains. “Our objective throughout our presentation is to highlight our involvement, how we got here and discuss how our involvement has led our efforts to continue pushing our district forward.”

“I think it is important to recognize that we feel we have really made a lot of connections and grown as a district through the experience we have had with Future Ready, and we are really excited to be able to provide those opportunities to districts that are just joining that Future Ready campaign,” added Christine Lion-Bailey, Morris Plains’ director of technology and innovation. “It is really so much more than the banner and the title…it is about building that community with other districts across the state.”

Morris Plains District Presenters — Mark Maire, superintendent of schools; Christine Lion-Bailey, director of technology and innovation; and Lindsay Viera, curriculum director.

FRS-NJ’s Task Forces Revolutionize Indicators of Future Readiness

Among the highlights of the opening summit at NJIT included key announcements of the year's updated Indicators of Future Readiness — the core measurements by which schools assess their digital learning resources and become certified as “Future Ready.”

“The initial year was a wonderful experience, but could be overwhelming at times because there were so many indicators,” said Lion-Bailey. “So, our district participated on special task forces to help consolidate those indicators, and we are really excited about how that will help districts to focus in on the areas that they can see themselves as exemplary.”

In its first year, the program featured more than 100 point-based indicators used to assess the future readiness of schools and districts in areas ranging from Internet and computer access to financial planning for digital resources.

This year, Morris Plains joined 250 volunteering educators, leaders and stakeholders across the state to assess and improve the program’s performance indicators within three core themes: leadership, education and classroom practice, and technology support and services. At the 2018 regional summits, it was announced that 2018’s Indicators of Future Readiness had been consolidated to nearly 50.

"The 2018 task forces also revolutionized the way we will provide feedback to schools that submit for certification by creating brand new standardized rubrics for each indicator,” explained Jeremy Reich, FRS-NJ project manager at NJIT. “Last year, in two months, 63 schools from 20 districts achieved certification. This year, schools have four months to submit for certification with half the indicators and a far more organized system…this means that the 2018 process will be a far more user-friendly, effective and efficient experience for those schools participating in the program."

Reich says the program’s latest updates have already generated positive responses and early engagement from schools and districts at the start of the 2018 certification cycle. Since February’s summits, FRS-NJ has confirmed two additional district commitments and nine additional school participation declarations, amounting to 72 committed districts and 120 participating schools overall.

“Overall, I think this is a real positive signal that the program’s message is expanding and that New Jersey districts and their educators and leaders are becoming more passionate about empowering their students through today’s technology, digital content and media,” said Reich.

Future Ready Schools – New Jersey (FRS-NJ) is a certification program designed to promote digital learning readiness in schools throughout New Jersey by providing guidance, support, direction, and resources to schools and districts. The program, a partnership of the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) and New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), will help schools promote the skills, abilities, and capacities essential for success in college, career, and citizenship in a digital age. Future Ready Schools – New Jersey is aligned with the national Future Ready Schools framework.