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 Leading Edge Certification is Golden

The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) has received a prestigious Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association.

SDCOE was honored for its Leading Edge Certification for the Online and Blended Teacher program in the Professional Development and Teacher Recruitment/Retention category, one of 19 categories for honoring programs that exemplify best practices in education.

The 2015 Golden Bell Awards will be presented in December in San Diego at the California School Boards Association's annual conference. The Golden Bell Awards, now in its 36th year, promotes excellence in education and school board governance by recognizing outstanding programs and practices around California.

This marks the fourth Golden Bell Award in five years for SDCOE, which was honored in 2013 for its Regional Technology Hosting Program, providing technology services and resources to school districts; in 2012 for Assistive Technology and Sensory Integration, a program that meets individual needs of medically fragile students with multiple disabilities; and in 2011 for Innovative Video in Education, the popular iVIE program that motivates teachers to integrate media technology into lesson plans and includes a film festival and awards show.

"I can't say it was a shock because I know the quality of our program is very high," Director of Educational Technology Dennis Danielson said of the honor for Leading Edge Certification, commonly referred to as LEC. "We were very happy to be recognized."

Credit goes to a small, core team of SDCOE staff members, including former SDCOE employee Mary Kraus, for doing "a huge amount of work" over several years to make the Leading Edge Certification for the Online and Blended Teacher program go forward. The eight-week course is delivered fully online and is built on rigorous standards that include a final portfolio that demonstrates mastery.

Danielson said support from Superintendent Dr. Randy Ward and Assistant Superintendent/Chief Information Technology Officer Karen Connaghan also was crucial to the development of the program.

"That level of support makes a difference," he said. "A great deal of credit goes to their recognition of the need for this program to help educators that want to make the transition to providing online and blended opportunities for their students."

Since partnering four years ago with the Leading Edge Alliance to develop a certification course focused on blended and online teaching, SDCOE has led more than 40 Leading Edge Certification cohorts of more than 600 teachers. The Leading Edge Alliance is a national group of nonprofits, universities, education providers, and government agencies committed to advancing student achievement.

So what is LEC, and why is it so popular among educators? It's a professional development program focused on education, not technology. The program strives for the successful implementation of online or blended classrooms. One teacher testimonial says the certification helps teachers bring the online experience to the classroom in a more organized, effective way. 

"LEC is open to and benefits a wide range of educators," Danielson said. SDCOE's cohorts have included teachers from kindergarten through college.

Helping educators to incorporate online tools, such as Google Apps For Education and Haiku learning management system, is invaluable for their students. These tools have the capacity for sharing and access that are important to extending the learning opportunities.

"It's preparing them for 21st century jobs that don't currently exist, teaching them to be innovative and creative," Danielson said. "It's introducing these concepts to students as early as possible. It's collaborative, research-based, project-based. In many cases, it's personalized."

SDCOE initiated Leading Edge Certifications within Juvenile Court and Community Schools, encouraging teachers to provide online and blended opportunities to all of their students, including those who are incarcerated. The program includes one-to-one access to low-cost, high-functioning Chromebook computers for all students and continuous professional development to support teachers. JCCS support staff members, counselors, and administrators also have earned Leading Edge Certification.

Following the success with JCCS, the SDCOE technology team initiated outreach to other districts and schools for the LEC program. And they haven't looked back.

"Right now we are working on capacity – how much can we grow this?" Danielson said. "The demand is out there."

This isn't the first recognition for SDCOE's Leading Edge Certification program. In May, the program received the Classroom of the Future Foundation's Innovation in Education Impact Award for 2015.

"Online and blended learning is about extending high-quality learning opportunities beyond the physical classroom," Danielson said. "Blended learning should be focused on the academic goals of the school and be as student-centered as possible. With the modern technology tools, teachers can design projects that are engaging and transformative. Our LEC program helps to prepare educators to make that a reality."