Highlander Institute Receives Multi-Year Funding to Expand Programs

In an exciting development for the RI educational landscape, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a $1.78M grant to Highlander Institute for the expansion of Fuse RI and the EdTechRI Testbed.

Launched in 2014 to “ignite education through blended learning”, Fuse RI is a no-cost solution for districts interested in leveraging technology to personalize learning for all students. This shift is critical to preparing students for success in our fast-changing world. The two-year project recruits educator talent across the state as Fuse Fellows, who are paired with Fuse Partner Districts to develop model classrooms, policy, systems, resources and professional development.

Fuse RI is the brainchild of Shawn Rubin, Highlander Institute’s Chief Education Officer. Over the past two years, Fuse RI has trained 34 Fellows to work in 18 districts, developing an interconnected web of professional learning, data and structured change management to over half of RI.

“Blended learning is gaining momentum in public schools across the country as a way to deliver instruction that is personalized while empowering the development of 21st century skills. At its core, blended learning combines excellent teacher instruction with quality education technology tools that enables some element of student control over time, place, path, and / or pace,” says Rubin.

The EdTechRI Testbed will train and support approximately 40 teachers across 12 schools in the Providence Public School Department, studying the impact of math and reading software and personalized learning platforms A goal of this project is to help educators become more informed consumers in this digital age, giving them the tools to determine whether a particular technology product is the right fit in their classroom. “School districts rarely have the time, funding or expertise to conduct these studies,” says Cameron Berube, PPSD’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction. “Schools and districts are left making decisions on products based on anecdotal information.”

Under the terms of the grant, the Highlander Institute will support eight new Fuse Partner Districts for two years through the mobilization of 27 new Fuse Fellows. “All project processes, systems and resources will continue to be made open source to support wide scale replication of our work in interested cities and states”, says Dana Borrelli-Murray, Highlander Institute’s Executive Director. “And with each year’s success, we anticipate national interest in this homegrown model, further showcasing RI as the country’s leader in blended and personalized learning.”

“As part of the first cohort of Fuse Fellows we were asked to push ourselves, challenge our thinking, create our own learning and widely share this with others. This has been the best professional learning experience I have ever had, and I have no doubt that we have — and will continue to make a difference in Rhode Island.” Tracey Nangle, Teacher, North Smithfield Middle School, Cohort 1 Fellow.

Remarks from Fuse Fest

On June 9, 2016, Highlander Institute hosted Fuse Fest, an event to celebrate the “graduation” of our inaugural cohort of Fuse RI Fellows and Partner Districts. We asked Tracey Nangle, a middle school teacher from North Smithfield and Cohort 1 Fellow partnered with Central Falls to give the keynote address. Thank you Tracey for a wonderful speech, and thank you again to all Cohort 1 Fellows and Districts who have contributed so much to the evolution of this Fellowship!

Here are Tracey’s remarks:

We made it! Two years of what can only be described as organized chaos has led us here…And it feels pretty good, am I right?

For some reason we all agreed to this! And it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I was recruited by Eric Butash. Eric was determined that someone from my district and his former district, North Smithfield, would become a Fuse Fellow and as we all know – Eric can be very persuasive when he wants to be! I, and all of you, had a love for technology and we were using some in the classroom so why not apply and see what would happen?

We all showed up at those summer interviews in Highlander Institute’s furnace of an office, only to be led to the third floor where it was even hotter. There we all sat, trying to ignore the fact that we were dripping with sweat while we attempted to answer questions intelligently. Apparently, we can think while sweating because we all made it through and were chosen as the very first Fuse Fellow Cohort.

We came together for our summer boot camp two years ago not knowing each other and not truly understanding what the fellowship would entail, but intrigued and energized by this eclectic group of people at Highlander Institute. As it turned out, we all made a very wise decision when we accepted their offer of a two-year fellowship.

That first week of training had all of us questioning what we had gotten ourselves into. Information flew at us at a fast and furious rate! I was very happy to have people sitting next to me whispering helpful remarks to me as often as I was whispering helpful information to them! It was confusing, fascinating, challenging, took many of us way out of our comfort zones, and ultimately, a really fun experience.

We left that training with our heads spinning and strangely, more excited than ever. We had met some really interesting cohort members, been reassured by the fact that these Highlander people really did know a thing or two about blended learning, and with a more complete picture of what it was that Highlander Institute was trying to accomplish – not a clear picture by any means, but we had been given a glimpse into the huge topic of blended learning and a sense of how much learning we all had to do.

All along the way we have been asked to push ourselves, to challenge each other and our own thinking, to create our own learning and to share that with others, and also to give our opinions and feedback about our learning. All of that has combined to make this the best professional learning experience I have ever had. The description I just gave of what we were asked to do is what all of us want to create in our own classrooms every day. That is authentic, meaningful, and lasting learning. The people at Highlander Institute may have been creating this fellowship as we were experiencing it, but they have created a remarkable model that will only become better with time. Time and time again I have been blown away by their passion, their responsiveness to our feedback, their level of commitment to excellence in education, and how very nice all of them are. We could not have asked for a more knowledgeable or admirable group of mentors.

The essence of this experience for me however, has been all of you – my fellow Fellows of Cohort 1. What a gift it has been to meet people who share my interests and who possess such tremendous talent. You are all so generous in sharing what you know and are able to do. There was always someone to turn to and I knew that if I sent out a call to the Fellows, someone, and usually many more than one, would respond with really useful information and advice. Over the last two years I have sometimes felt like I was in over my head but I never felt alone. For that I thank all of you. A special thank you to Simona, my awesome partner. Working with you and the Central Falls school district was really rewarding; when one of us zigged, the other one zagged and we got it all done!

There is something special about being the first. It could have something to do with the fact that we were the guinea pigs in this experiment! Having suffered through this together has made us an entity unto ourselves. We’re good together and there is value in maintaining our connections and sharing our ideas and challenges as we move forward.

We have and will continue to make a difference in Rhode Island. We’re ready. Congratulations to all of us on a job well done and thank you to our wonderful mentors at Highlander Institute.