How A Tiny District in Idaho Is Leading The Way To Personalized Learning in Idaho

A Love2Learn Q&A with Jeff Dillon /// Superintendent of Wilder Schools

What was the response from people when you announced that Wilder was one of the only schools in Idaho to provide every student with an Apple device?

“They are just going to play with their iPad”, “They won’t be responsible with an iPad”, “They can’t be owners of their learning”… these statements can’t be farther from the truth. Every student has an iPad that is used to create content and inform others, not to consume information. In fact, in just two months, kindergarten student were able to create a keynote presentation for kindergarten graduation that demonstrated their learning throughout the year.

Tell us how this journey to personalized learning began in Wilder.

Just over a year ago the Wilder School District began transforming its learning environment from a traditional classroom setting to a mastery-based personalized learning environment. The Wilder School District was one of 19 school districts in the state of Idaho that was granted a Mastery-based Education waiver from the state Department of Education, giving the district flexibility to be innovative.

How is this different than traditional education?

As one of these innovative districts, we can now gauge our student’s growth and performance on mastery of the content. Traditionally, if a student received a grade that was higher than an “F” then the student received credit and was allowed to move to the next course or grade.

The fundamental belief was that if a student sat in the seat for the appropriate amount time and received a “passing” letter grade, then the student must know the information. From experience we all know that this is not true. Now that the district has a waiver we are not bound to require seat time as an indicator for credit. In a mastery-based learning environment, students progress day-to-day, course-by-course, as they master the content. So the only grades a student will receive is a mastery grade.

How is this different for the students?

Students will take a proactive role in designing their current learning and planning for future learning. Learning will be personalized, co-planned with students, parents, and teachers — who will become mentors. Learning plans will be formed by what the student has and has not mastered and includes the individual learning patterns and interests of each student. Students will participate in the evaluation of their learning and in deciding how best to demonstrate their learning/mastery. There will be student choice in curricular options, resources and learning materials, and varied learning environments.

By using personalized learning plans, portfolios, rubrics, online learning management and support tools, collaborative learning, and other strategies, learning facilitators help students manage their own educational experience. Learning paths will be based on career and college readiness standards as well as specific skills such as collaboration, creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking. The district and schools have committed to creating a student-centered, mastery based culture and learning environment and will use personalized instructional strategies to meet this commitment.

If someone were to walk into a classroom in Wilder, what would they see?

If you were to walk into a classroom today you will see amazing student engagement. You will not see desks and rows or the teacher teaching in the front of the classroom. You will not see students off task, playing around and disrupting the class. You will see students engaged in a variety of capacities throughout the classroom, on the floor, on the couch, around tables, some students on an iPad, some students working on posters or perhaps a traditional worksheet. Even though it seems like it’s a little chaotic, the conversations you will hear between students are rich with content and understanding.

The Wilder School District is an Innovation District K-12 where the student’s education is personalized and content is mastered before progressing to the next course or grade.


Jeff Dillon is Wilder School District’s Superintendent of Schools and K-5 Principal. He is a Regional Director of the Idaho Association of Elementary School Principals; Idaho Association of School Administrators Legislative Committee member; Co-owner of a consulting company Rural American Resources for Education; Advisory Board member for a successful online education company, Learning A-Z; and is a National education leadership speaker.