Top 30

Dr. Jeffrey Butts

Dr. Jeffrey Butts and Pete Just have worked to create a digital transformation at their school district — all with the goal of helping students be college and career ready.

Their success is reflected in the district’s post-secondary attendance data. This past year, Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township (MSD Wayne) students applied to over 300 colleges and earned more than $14 million in scholarships. Eighty-five percent of students will be attending either a two- or four-year post-secondary institution after graduation. Perhaps most impressive is the dramatic increase in MSD Wayne’s graduation rate — in 2006 it was only 65 percent and today it is more than 94 percent. While this is a significant accomplishment for any district, it is especially impressive given MSD Wayne’s size, student mobility and economic climate (78 percent of MSD Wayne students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch). “It’s critical for students to have multiple pathways for success, whether that be a four-year college or university, a two-year community college or trade school, or an apprenticeship where they learn technical skills,” says Dr. Butts. 

This impressive transformation correlates with MSD Wayne’s Blueprint for Digital Learning, which was rolled out under Dr. Butts’ and Just’s leadership in 2012. Opting to forego a massive 1:1 deployment, they built the infrastructure and provided faculty with professional development opportunities to better understand the motivations behind the plan. “Our Blueprint for Digital Learning has allowed for greater collaboration and an increase in student achievement and success. It established how we could accomplish the ‘why’ and clarified the timelines for teacher readiness,” says Just. Ultimately, they instituted a flexible BYOD policy and provided 10,000 Chromebooks for the district’s approximately 16,000 students. However, they both stress any 1:1 or BYOD policy shouldn’t be about devices, but instead about doing what is best for students. “Technology can be a great equalizer,” says Dr. Butts. 

To improve access to education for students, the district offers Ben Davis Extended Day School, an extension of Ben Davis High School. While the school has teachers on site with 60 work stations open from 3:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., students can also access the curriculum online. Students who want to take additional credits can free up time during their day schedule, or students who have not been successful during day hours can attend to catch up. MSD Wayne also operates the state’s first public virtual high school and the only online high school from an Indiana public school district — Achieve Virtual Education Academy. Just sees this boost in technology utilization as a necessary step in garnering greater outcomes. "Technology serves to amplify the curricular goals and learning opportunities in MSD Wayne,” he says. “It is an accelerator for our multiple pathways to success, and our teachers leverage the advantages of technology to prepare students for their future."

Dr. Butts’ and Just’s advice to other education leaders is to work within their community to help everyone understand the value of their schools and how the success of both schools and the communities they reside in are interdependent. For example, to improve students’ digital connectivity outside of class, MSD Wayne has a partnership in place with an Ethernet provider and is working with other business and residential organizations, including local apartment complexes, to increase wireless access points for students.

Dr. Butts and Just also point to social media as a way to communicate school activities and keep community members informed of progress. “Helping people in the community understand what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis to improve students’ lives is so important,” says Dr. Butts. “We had a community member who doesn’t have any children in the school district write us a letter and talk about how he was originally against a tax increase to support our schools. After following us on social media and seeing what we were doing, he said he was really proud of our work and he was no longer opposed to the tax increase. This type of feedback is amazing to receive.”