A Spark in Williamsfield: Open Education One Year Later


With Secretary Duncan after the Williamsfield Bus Stop Event

One year ago today I was on a plane to Peoria, IL. My final destination would be Williamsfield, IL which is home to the Williamsfield Community School District. Also known as the “Billtown Bombers”. I was roughly one month and change into my role as Chief Open Education Advisor at the United States Department of Education. My work was focused on launching a national movement that sought to expand and accelerate the use of openly licensed educational resources in K-12 schools. And, Williamsfield, IL would be my first test.

My former office, The Office of Educational Technology, was tasked with finding a school in central Illinois that was doing great work with making the transition to openly licensed educational resources for the Secretary’s upcoming Back to School Bus Tour. But, Williamsfield Community School District was not a school that jumped off the map. The population of the town is roughly 600 and the population of the K-12 school is 99.

My former colleague, Sara Trettin, introduced me to Jeanne Kitchens. Jeanne Kitchens is the Associate Director for Workforce Development at Southern Illinois University. Jeanne also oversees the development of the Illinois Shared Learning Environment (ISLE) which is large repository of openly licensed educational resources that is tagged and organized for all educators to use. Jeanne connected with Tim Farquer a few years ago when Williamsfield’s math department decided to use openly licensed educational resources in place of a math textbook and curriculum. And this timeline and web of connections helped light a spark that turned into #GoOpen.

Over the past year, I have had a front row seat to see the spark that started in Williamsfield ignite a national movement that now includes 72 #GoOpen Districts and 17 #GoOpen states. I had one of the most rewarding opportunities in my career getting to work for every student and educator in this country. The experience opened my eyes to the inequities in education that still persist far after I put down my last Jonathan Kozol book in graduate school. But, this is why I, and all of my colleagues at the United States Department of Education, went to work every day. We were not trying to move a political agenda, nor were we in it for our own advancement; rather, we were there for every student and educator in America.

Secretary Duncan with Williamsifield Educators

Despite the political vitriol and social injustice that have run parallel to my tenure with the US Department of Education, our collective work and voices at USDOE made every attempt to elevate and support the often unheard voices in education. There is no hidden, political agenda in #GoOpen, Future Ready, Teach to Lead or The National Educational Technology Plan. But, there is hope in all of these movements that every student in this country will get a shot at an amazing and equal educational experience.

Anyone reading this knows their educational journey would not have been possible without particular individuals who helped, supported, or opened doors for them. When I hear about the inequities in education that still persist, I know that I have to do more. The answer to developing the next great generation lies in the hands of every educator across the country. We can always do better in supporting educators and the resources they need to be dynamic teachers and learners. I’ve learned a lot during my time at USDOE. The most important lesson is that there are still many voices that need amplification. I hope you can join me in helping lift these voices up and continue to make small dents towards equality and equity in education. Our work is just beginning.

Williamsfield Students share their Micro-grid alternate energy solution with Secretary Duncan and Rep. Cheri Bustos