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As school ends, Pittsburgh is celebrating national and global education awards

Photo above courtesy of Remake Learning.

Students, teachers and parents: You made it. We’ve reached the end of another school year, and during these final days of classes and exams, there is much to celebrate. One especially bright bit of news as summer begins: Educators and schools in our region have been receiving national and international recognition for their hard work and innovation.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what’s happening:

Remake Learning has been named an award finalist by WISERemake Learning, our region-wide network of educators and community organizations that support children’s growth and learning, has been fostering collaboration and igniting engaging, relevant and equitable learning practices for the past 15 years. Along the way, our region’s learning ecosystem has grown in remarkable ways, and that ecosystem has gotten the attention of the folks at WISE.

WISE is a global organization focused on new approaches to education. Through a biennial Summit event and many ongoing programs, WISE promotes innovation and helps build the future of education through collaboration. Each year, the WISE Awards recognize six innovative projects that are addressing global educational challenges. The short list for this prize — 12 impressive projects that are finalists for the WISE Awards — have been announced, and Remake Learning is on that list.

The six winners will be announced in September 2022, and will receive $20,000 toward their work.

Projects vying for this award were evaluated on their innovation, scalability, sustainability and impact on individuals, communities, and societies in their own communities or globally. To be considered, the projects also needed to be financially stable, have a clear development plan and be replicable elsewhere. All of this describes Remake Learning.

“Over the last 15 years, Remake Learning has built a network of people, projects, and organizations committed to collaboratively rethinking when, where, and how young people learn in the Pittsburgh region,” said Tyler Samstag, Remake Learning’s director. “Our work has transcended individual efforts, and our selection as a WISE Award finalist validates the vision, commitment, and boldness of many across our community. We are humbled and grateful for this distinction.”

AASA has named Elizabeth Forward and West Allegheny “lighthouse districts”

Last summer, the Western Pennsylvania Learning 2025 Alliance was formed to help school districts in our region as they work to innovate. It was built on a framework created by AASA’s Learning 2025 National Commission on Student-Centered, Equity-Focused Education

Less than a year later, AASA, The School Superintendents Association and the Successful Practices Network have recognized 13 U.S. school districts as “Lighthouse” systems that are serving as models of positive change in public education. Two of those — West Allegheny and Elizabeth Forward — are in our region.

Lighthouse districts are described as “exemplary educational systems” that “serve as beacons of light in key areas of holistic redesign of American education.

West Allegheny‘s innovative work includes a focus on future-driven learners, including an “early college and high school academy” that gets high schoolers on the road to earning their college degrees. “We offer 23 early college programs at our high school with four different partners: CCAC RMU, Pittsburgh Technical College, and now CCBC,” says superintendent Jerri Lynn Lippert.

The results are remarkable: This week, 26 students will graduate from West Allegheny having earned college certificates and even Associates degrees while in high school. Lippert is proud of the program, she says, and glad to be participating in the Learning 2025 Alliance.

“We find that collaborating with other AASA districts, both regionally as well as nationally, just helps us in general be a better district for our students,” she says.

At Elizabeth Forward, some of the most powerful innovation has focused on personalized learning. The district began embracing digital learning and real personalization a decade ago, and that commitment to effectively using digital devices and learning management systems paid off dramatically when the pandemic erupted.

“When COVID happened, school districts across the country were trying to buy technology and provide professional development for teachers” in order to reach students, says superintendent Todd Keruskin. Because Elizabeth Forward had fully embraced effective digital learning and had been succeeding with it for several years, “we only missed one day of school.”

Keruskin’s district is “super-proud of our teachers, our administrators, our students and our community for having this vision 10 years ago for how to personalize learning,” he says. And like Lippert, he’s very glad to be collaborating and sharing ideas with other superintendents throughout our region.

That collaboration has been valuable for all 30 districts participating in Learning 20-25, according to Dr. Bart Rocco and Dr. Bille Rondinelli, fellows at the Pittsburgh-based Grable Foundation, which is supporting the initiative.

“The amazing feature of the 2025 Alliance is that all of these districts are sharing best practices and collaborating to improve the learning of the students in our region,” says Rocco.

Rondinelli agrees: “In collaboration with AASA, Remake Learning, and many others, the Learning 2025 initiative, provides districts with opportunities to focus in on areas that will foster genuine transformational change. We are embracing a ‘Call to Action’ to redesign educational systems and personalize learning in order to better prepare children for their futures and careers. It is a continuous learning journey for all districts involved,” she says. “Districts such as Elizabeth Forward and West Allegheny, nationally recognized as AASA Lighthouse Districts, are doing extraordinary work in redesigning their systems and providing options for student agency.”