Located in Orange County, California, the Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) provides quality educational experiences for more than 37,000 PK-12 students across 43 separate schools. Through a partnership between talented and caring teachers, engaged students, involved parents and supportive business and community leaders, student and district performance continually exceed state and national standards.
Due in part to their successful education program, the rapid growth within the city of Irvine has also made IUSD one of the fastest-growing school districts in the state for the last ten years. Unfortunately, IUSD is also one of the lowest funded public school districts in the state of California, with revenues per student far below districts of similar size. This combination of explosive growth and limited resources made it difficult to onboard and train new staff each year.
Luckily, IUSD has found Cornerstone Learn to be the ideal partner when it comes to meeting all their professional development needs. The cost-effective, customizable and curriculum-packed platform has helped the school district level up its staff and teachers, so they can help their students reach the greatest heights possible.
- Main Challenge: Create an adaptable and robust professional development system for teachers
- Solution: Cornerstone Learn
- Results: By utilizing Cornerstone Learn, IUSD created Compass, an LMS with over 180 unique curricula for their teachers and staff
The first day of school with Cornerstone Learn
IUSD’s search for a professional learning platform began in 2018. At first, all they wanted was something that could manage and document in-person training for their growing staff. They decided to take a chance on Cornerstone Learn, and they quickly realized they had far more functionality at their disposal than they originally anticipated.
“What has been amazing about Cornerstone is that it has allowed us the flexibility to create content that really meets the needs of every level of our organization and ultimately impacts student learning,” says Catherine Holmes, IUSD’s Executive Director of Curriculum Instruction and Professional Learning.
As she and her team became more familiar with the capabilities of Cornerstone Learn, their original need for organization evolved into a much more robust usage of the platform. Soon, they could create an individualized history of completed training for all staff, organize outside resources and learner content and host a library of their own on-demand learning and resources.
Creating an atmosphere of learning
As an educational institution, IUSD knew it needed an LMS capable of meeting its own standards for learning. They wanted their employees to have access to a platform with an on-demand library. That way, they could share preexisting resources and create their own curricula.
The training also needed to fit their own unique organizational culture, vision and expectations. Cornerstone Learn — which they rebranded as Compass — has allowed them to create plenty of their own content for teachers who expect and need personalized learning opportunities.
“It’s about finding problems and really addressing them,” Holmes says of this process. “Then it’s about coming up with creative solutions to meet that demand and help structure and organize them too. We also can use the platform to invite the team to collaborate on implementing them.”
This allows IUSD to send out customized and unique learning pathways reflective of their organizational values, student population and instructional methods.
Practicing what they preach
IUSD is in the business of learning, which translates to a constant state of reflection when regarding which teaching practices they use. By utilizing Compass, they found a platform that helped effectively educate teachers so they could, in turn, effectively educate their students. In their view, this trickle-down effect is essential to the organization’s overall success.
“When we’re providing training, we’re modeling all the things that we want teachers to do in the classroom,” Holmes says. “We're not just delivering content and information; we're thinking about how we're packaging it, what strategies we're using, what we're modeling to use both online and in person so that teachers can take both the information, but then also the strategies that we use. And now, when we invest that kind of time, we're able to realize a return on that investment over months and even years.”
As deliverers of professional learning, Holmes and her team know the learning experiences they deliver online and in-person require personalization, time to collaborate with colleagues, ownership of learning and differentiated instruction.
According to Nicole Brubaker, IUSD’s Coordinator of Professional Learning, that means working with her own internal team to fully realize the potential of Compass:
“How can we ensure our teachers have the tools they need to be the best teachers possible for our students in Irvine, California? What we’re learning and discovering along the way is there are so many opportunities to differentiate what we’re able to deliver through professional learning.”
Getting the help they needed
From the beginning of the partnership, IUSD and Cornerstone have worked closely to ensure maximum success for teachers. Holmes, Brubaker and the rest of their team made ample use of multiple resources within the Cornerstone Success Center, as well as Support Central to achieve this goal.
“We leveraged every support Cornerstone offered to find solutions to meet our unique needs,” Holmes recalls. “With this help, we successfully launched Compass within four months of procurement. From the Communities of Practice to Knowledge Central, we leveraged every support Cornerstone offered.”
For the first year, they worked with Cornerstone to design a user-friendly and visually appealing platform interface. Next, they implemented a multitude of instructor-led training management features. This has allowed them to create 60 branded resource documents to support both front-end and back-end users. They’ve also begun to utilize short videos as an additional resource.
“Before, we had to do a lot of manual work,” says Systems Integrations Analyst Kelly Connor. “Now, we’re able to automate that process. Anytime someone has to train on anything, we can just use Compass.”
Customizing their online classroom
IUSD knew that what may work well in the corporate environment would not be effective with their own users. To create an environment that was visually engaging, friendly and “classroom-like,” they took every opportunity to customize visuals and personalize the platform to their own unique organizational needs.
Holmes says, “We knew that to keep our user’s interest, we needed to refine and improve our interface so that every user is invited into the space and is able to easily navigate to what they may need.”
They reached out to staff to submit options for the new platform name, ultimately selecting “Compass - Find the Learning You’re Looking For” as the name and slogan that most represented their district’s culture and learning philosophy.
They also redesigned Cornerstone Learn on multiple different levels. They gave the learner home page, dashboard and each learning community an appealing design more indicative of IUSD’s personality as a school district.
“We’re always looking for what we can do differently,” says Brubaker. “What's exciting? What's going to get people interested? What's going to get our teachers interested? And that's what constantly keeps us moving: asking how we can do things differently, how we can keep growing, how we can keep learning ourselves.”
Overcoming speed bumps
Just as they gained momentum with Compass’s implementation, March 2020 rolled around. With it came a stay-at-home order for all California schools to transition to digital learning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At that point, Compass became more of a necessity than ever. In a matter of days, they needed every teacher, administrator and instructional support staff member to engage in on-demand professional learning. It was the only way to weather the storm ahead.
“IUSD educators have high expectations for their students and themselves,” says Holmes. “It was our job to ensure the delivery of effective, relevant and engaging professional learning that valued their investment of time.”
Within moments of releasing their first distance learning curriculum, teachers were already engaging in the learning experience we developed. There were almost 2,000 completions within days of the release, representing nearly every single teacher and administrator districtwide.
While developing content, Holmes’ team was simultaneously training district leaders and content area experts on the best practices around designing dynamic and interactive content. With all staff now creating learning content, they developed over 180 unique curriculums ranging from 30-minute to multi-day experiences.
A place to learn
IUSD’s core mission will always be firmly grounded in its overarching goal to positively impact student learning every day. To do so, Holmes, Connor, Brubaker and the rest of their team needed an LMS that could gear up teachers for ultimate success.
“Everything that we do is about ensuring we’re consistently delivering the best education we can envision for our students,” says Brubaker. “How we support our teachers and what they need is, in turn, how we can best support our students. As we grow in education, as education changes, as our students change, we need to ensure that we are developing the most impactful, effective, motivational and professional learning experiences for our Irvine educators.”
Compass has pointed true North in times of crisis, and it’s passed just about every test thrown its way. It’s become a place where people can share and acquire knowledge, mindsets have the freedom to shift, and anyone can direct their own learning to achieve their full potential. Just like any IUSD classroom.