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Dr. Gary Lilly

Traditionally, time has been the constant and learning has been the variable in education, but Dr. Lilly disagrees with this pedagogy and has made strides to make learning the constant in his district. Because of his efforts, Bristol Tennessee City Schools (Bristol) is now at the forefront of personalized learning and actively promotes a studentcentered approach, focusing on problem solving and creativity. To facilitate anytime, anywhere student-centered learning, Dr. Lilly successfully spearheaded the integration of new technologies into the district’s classrooms, including providing every student in grades 4 through 12 with a laptop to use at school and at home, which was rolled out in three phases beginning with the middle school. The district also uses a variety of other digital applications and systems to enhance instruction and produce successful outcomes.

Since implementing these technologies under the Digital Conversion Initiative, the district has seen a boost in student achievement. The initiative allows teachers to concentrate on providing a student-centered approach that differentiates learning, which is beginning to pay dividends in a number of areas. More students are graduating and the district's average ACT composite has increased 1.2 points over the past 2 years. Additionally, students are performing better in advanced placement courses. At the same time, discipline referrals have declined. Lilly attributes these results to increased student engagement. From hosting live Twitter forum discussions to designing pamphlets for school plays to filming videos about cyberbullying, students are embracing the hands-on, personalized learning experiences Dr. Lilly encourages and fosters in the district.

Bristol school leaders employ multiple data capturing methods, including benchmark testing and formative assessments, to ensure they effectively meet students’ academic needs and that the curriculum remains aligned to the school’s overall learning vision. For example, with the help of Dr. Lilly, teachers, administrators and academic coaches at Vance Middle School work collaboratively to develop intervention opportunities for students based on data. Each student is assigned a coach who reviews the data with the student and then creates college and career goals to track the student's academic progress. Students use laptops to see and share the data and learning goals with their parents. The increased student achievement allowed Bristol to exit a Title I focus list two years ahead of schedule.

Promoting STEM subjects has also been a big focus for Dr. Lilly. One elementary school has a solar pavilion where students calculate the amount of energy a solar panel feeds back into the grid. Every seventh-grade student participates in the school’s STEM lab. Vance’s eighth graders can remain in the STEM lab program or they can join a performing arts class, study digital media or participate in the school’s robotics club. Students in the robotics club often collaborate with Vance’s CHAMPS Racing Program, where students can build and tear down a car engine. Robotics, through the U.S. FIRST program and other STEMfocused activities, are available to students as they progress to high school.

Dr. Lilly says students are integral to supporting STEM activities and the 1:1 initiative — students staff the help desk and assist with a wide array of technological needs. Programs such as these provide students with the opportunity to apply their classroom STEM lessons to real-life situations.

Dr. Lilly participates in several local, state and national K–12 leadership and technology organizations. He is an active member of AASA (The School Superintendents Association) and serves on its governing board. He actively seeks professional development opportunities such as participating in the iNACOL conference, the Tennessee Educational Technology Association’s Administrators’ Technology Academy and regional workshops. Dr. Lilly also served on the Tennessee Department of Education’s personalized learning advisory council and continues to serve on the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents board as the 2015 president. Additionally, his district was selected as one of six #GoOpen Ambassador Districts.

Thanks to Dr. Lilly, the district’s students have become active participants in their education. And in addition to collaborating with other districts around the nation, he has implemented an open-door policy for schools that are interested in seeing what the district is doing with personalized learning.