District-wide Collaboration Moves Everyone Forward in Wheeling, Illinois

Ellen Ullman

Community Consolidated School District 21 (CCSD21), located in a suburb of Chicago, has two primary instructional areas of focus: inclusionary practices and authentic learning. District CIO Jason Klein explains: “When we talk about inclusionary practices, we mean every student getting what he or she needs to be challenged appropriately, in an inclusive setting. All kids are good at some things and struggle at others. When we really know our students in detail—including their interests, strengths, and areas that need additional support—we understand how to best challenge and/or support them with specific concept, content, and skills. Simply placing students in a leveled math or literacy class will not do this.”

In terms of authentic learning, CCSD21 is creating environments where students are challenged to solve problems. “The final outcome is not just a presentation or something a child turns in to the teacher,” says Klein. “We want them to create a product that affects a real audience, like influencing the legislative process or creating a physical solution to a problem in the world around them, whether it be the school, a new science-based product, or cleaning up a stream in our community.”

To work toward these two learning goals, CCSD21 has chosen to go one-to-one – providing students with tools that connect them to their world on a daily basis.

The Device Decision

The team assembled to review and select devices was a comprehensive one, consisting of teachers, information literacy coaches, administrators, and a team of 65 middle school students. The students divided into groups and became experts on different devices, learning about them by using them and meeting with the CCSD21 technology staff as well as reps from various companies.

“We spent a half day at CDW-G in device showcases,” Klein explains. “During this experience, we also provided students with opportunities to explore a variety of careers in an explicit and meaningful way. We know that middle school is when most kids choose their general life pathway in terms of formal education and a career, so giving them exposure into thinking about it at a high level is important at this time.”

Two options rose to the top: Windows 8 convertibles and Chromebooks. In the end, the Chromebooks won out because of their lower price tag, which made it affordable to go 1:1 in multiple grades. In addition, the testers loved that Chromebooks simply work – you turn them on, and you’re good to go.

How easy the Chromebooks are to deploy was another plus. “We can set up approximately 250 Chromebooks for a complete grade level in about three hours with the processes our team has developed,” Klein explains. “That allows us to spend more time helping teachers on instruction, deeper learning, and using assessment data to make learning more challenging.”

During the initial review, teachers and students quickly narrowed in on Acer C7 Chromebooks as the best choice at the time for balancing functionality, durability, usability, and cost. Since then, CCSD21 has added additional devices to the mix – this time from Lenovo. After considering the newest models last year, the district decided to purchase the Intel-based Lenovo 11e Chromebooks. In addition to the 4GB of RAM and 16GB SSD drive offered in the Acer models the district had already purchased, the Lenovo 11e featured a solid display, well-reviewed keyboard, relatively large trackpad, and unusually ruggedized design for school use.

The Rollout Process

Rather than starting with small pilots, CCSD21 moved quickly through the adoption process for entire grade levels, something that Klein believes was made possible by having a consistent and focused instructional plan, with the devices seen as simply another tool in helping students and teachers accomplish that plan. They started with middle schools in 2013 and then moved on to elementary schools in 2014.

During the rollout, the technical and instructional members of the CCSD21 information services team, along with other members of the district’s curriculum and instruction team, spent a week with each grade level at each school, supporting teachers and ensuring a smooth transition. “That first year, we spent nine weeks getting 2,100 devices into student’s hands. The key to doing all of our middle schools in year one was a lot of support and preparation beforehand,” says Klein.

Instead of focusing training on the Chromebooks and apps, district leaders focused on using these tools to support the professional learning communities that were already a central part of the district’s collaborative culture. According to Klein, “Teachers were already using Chrome and Google Apps on their staff laptops and they jumped right in. We understand that teacher collaboration is a fundamental component of a constantly improving school and are using Google Plus and Google Apps to promote such collaboration within buildings and across the district.”

It’s very important for the leadership team to participate the sharing culture, Klein adds. When a principal says, “Hey, I learned this” or central office writes a Google Plus post detailing what an eighth-grade science teacher is doing or Klein tells a teacher in one school what he saw a teacher in another school doing, people are more willing to try new things.

Klein mentions an art teacher who didn’t initially see how the Chromebooks would fit into an art classroom, a setting in which students painted and used clay and could easily accidentally damage the devices. Within a few weeks, she had embraced the idea of incorporating the devices into some of her lessons; she would post a sign in her window (“Chromebooks today? Yes or no”) that would change each day, depending on the nature of that day’s learning activities.

Lessons Learned

With the range of tools and services available to students and teachers, CCSD21 has attempted to take a balanced approach to ensuring access to these tools and services while also providing a high level of security for students and data about them. As such, the district lets parents decide where their children’s images can be published. In the same vein, teachers are required to participate in training on privacy issues before they can use Twitter (with district-created Twitter accounts) for instructional use. With this approach, the district encourages the connection of students and classrooms with experts and the world’s vast resources while also taking responsibility for privacy concerns. “It may be a little more work for staff,” says Klein, “but we need these kind of teachable moments.”

The entire school community -- including the school board – now uses Google Docs to conduct business. “We took an enterprise approach,” says Klein. “We pay for backup and we support Google Apps as an enterprise structure. We benefit from the products constantly improving.”

In just a short time, CCSD21’s one-to-one program is helping to change the way students learn. Teachers are using authentic learning and inclusionary practices and the administration knows that these changes will help students learn more. As Klein puts it, “We have to continually look at the future, figure out what our kids need, and how these tools can help with that.”

At A Glance

Community Consolidated School District 21, in Wheeling, IL, has 7,000 students, 625 teachers and 13 schools

About 60% of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.



In 2013-2014, middle school students and staff tested dozens of devices and selected Chromebooks for their 1:1. They received the Acer C7 Chromebook with a 6-cell battery, 16GB SSD drive, and 4GB of RAM.

In 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, each group of incoming sixth-grade students received Lenovo 11e Chromebooks.

Beginning in 2014, students in grades 3 through 5 received Chromebooks. These devices are on carts in school as there are currently only funds available to provide 2 Chromebooks for every 3 students at these grade levels.

Teachers receive Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebooks.


Learn More

Web page: Chromebooks at CCSD21

Web page: Transition to New Staff Laptops

eBook: Less Waiting, More Learning with Intel-Based Chromebooks

Related toolkits

Learn more now with materials from these toolkit and resource collections:

The K-12 Blueprint: Produced by Clarity Innovations

Clarity Innovations matches the most promising technology with the evolving needs of education. By merging creativity, technology, and pedagogy, we create powerful learning experiences. Learn More