Category: Partner News & Resources

How JS Morton empowered teachers with authentic common assessments and real-time results





CLASSROOM USE CASE: Common Assessment


A suburban high school district aims to bring authentic, standards-aligned common assessments to students. The community of educators at JS Morton High School District 201 in Illinois is a highly engaged group. They offer a rich variety of classes to students, with an emphasis on opportunities for both college and career preparedness. And with a student population of over 70% current and former English learners (EL), inclusive and accessible teaching strategies play a significant role in daily instruction. Director of Innovation and Accountability, Samantha Skubal, focuses on helping teachers incorporate technology and data to drive positive learning outcomes. The district prioritizes common assessments to ensure all students are progressing throughout the year, and give teachers actionable data to make informed instructional decisions.

But the common assessment program the district had been using felt antiquated and unhelpful. Students were confined to rigid assessments with one-size-fits-all question types and feedback tools. Teachers were looking for a flexible, engaging platform that enabled them to assess students through more inclusive methods that would meet those students—who come with a variety of learning needs and preferences—where they are. When educators asked repeatedly for Formative as a replacement for their current assessment platform, Ms. Skubal couldn’t ignore their enthusiasm.


Building Your Cyber Incident Response Team

When you’re blindsided by a sudden cyber attack, it pays to have a band of heroes you can call upon to save the day. Fortunately, that’s exactly what a cyber incident response team (CIRT) is for.

Think of them like the Avengers. They might not protect your universe from alien invaders, but they do keep malicious cybercriminals at bay.

Let’s uncover the basics of CIRTs and how you can build the best team for your district’s cybersecurity needs.


cyber incident response team — also known as a computer incident response team or computer security incident response team (CSIRT) — is a group of people responsible for responding to security breaches, viruses, and other potentially catastrophic cyber threats.

CIRTs are essential to the overall incident response process. Each security team member plays a particular role in mitigating an active threat, but together, they cohesively executive your school district’s incident response plan (IRP).

In short, an IRP is a formal document that establishes the requisite steps, instructions, and procedures your school district should follow for detecting, containing, and minimizing the impact of an attack on your information technology (IT) infrastructure. Generally speaking, incident response planning provides a comprehensive framework for mitigating a cyber incident, whether it be a security breach, data leak, or any other threat to sensitive information and student privacy.

With a well-crafted IRP, you can:

  • Jump into action: Incident response planning helps you act faster, which is key to preventing bad actors from getting their paws on more personal information.
  • Prevent downtime: The sooner you contain a threat, the quicker you can bring affected systems back online. And, if you’re really fast, you can even prevent the attack from forcing information technology offline in the first place.
  • Improve recovery: With a smoother and more effective incident response process, you can avoid critical damage that requires implementing a disaster recovery plan.

However, these outcomes aren’t possible without a computer security incident response team at the helm. A CIRT’s main goal is to regain control of an ongoing cyber incident as quickly and efficiently as possible, thereby minimizing its negative impact. This involves following the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)’s four-step framework for incident handling:

  1. Preparation
  2. Detection and analysis
  3. Containment, eradication, and recovery
  4. Post-incident activity

Not familiar with these phases? Check out our guide to learn more.

For now, just know the CIRT is responsible for completing each phase’s essential procedures. These include gathering threat intelligence, communicating events to internal and external stakeholders (such as law enforcement), classifying incidents, threat hunting, coordinating response efforts, post-incident reporting, and updating information security policies following a mitigated cyber threat.

Contact your dedicated Account Manager:

Warren Frebel
VP of Business Development

Learn More About ManagedMethods

Collaborative Brilliance: The Impact of Media Specialist-Teacher Partnerships

BY Jennifer Parker

Often, media specialists find themselves as solitary figures in our schools, but to effectively serve all our students, we must be master connectors, not only throughout our community but also within our building, through collaborative partnerships with teachers. Collaboration also plays a pivotal role in advocating for our programs, strengthening their visibility and value within the broader school community. I don’t know about you, but I witness teachers who are increasingly stressed and overwhelmed by the ever-mounting demands of education. Collaborating can often feel like yet another burden on their already full plates. However, amidst this, I also see these same teachers who remain steadfast in their ‘why,’ showing up every day in their classrooms, seeking ways to actively engage their students in learning. This is where collaboration with the school library media specialist shines brightest — the opportunity to join forces with teachers, asking ‘how can I help?’ This simple question embodies one of the most significant avenues we have to impact students and cultivate a thriving media program.

So, how do we earn teachers’ trust and open the door to collaboration? By aligning our collaboration efforts with content standards and offering assistance in areas where teachers may need extra support, we can be irreplaceable assets in our building. While teachers are experts in their content areas, as media specialists, we bring distinct proficiencies to the table. We excel in facilitating big ideas—lessons that are complex, require additional resources or technology, and often involve small group activities. By stepping in as their trusted ally, we become the superhero sidekick, helping to bring big ideas to life.

So, what does this collaboration entail? Picture a blend of interactive learning stations, hands-on STEAM/STEM activities, opportunities for coding, and captivating library “field trips” where we morph the space into an immersive museum experience tailored to specific learning standards. These lessons not only captivate students with their high engagement levels but also elicit a “wow” factor as passersby, both students and teachers, catch glimpses of the excitement unfolding. It’s about creating a buzz that ignites curiosity and prompts others to seek similar experiences.

Leveraging Blended Learning Station Lessons

Blended learning station lessons are a personal favorite of mine when it comes to collaboration. They offer a plethora of moving parts that might seem daunting for a teacher to tackle alone, especially when aiming to provide differentiated stations tailored to student levels or needs. But fear not! Let’s demystify the terminology. The Blended Learning Station model is simply a structured approach where students rotate through a series of stations or learning activities on a fixed schedule, with at least one station being online or digital.

Here is an example of one of my standout blended learning station lessons —a favorite among our 6th-grade social studies classes focusing on Chernobyl. Each station was crafted to provide a unique perspective on the topic. From a virtual reality lab that enables students to immerse themselves in a virtual walk through Chernobyl to a small group discussion led by the classroom teacher on the causes of the disaster, along with other stations featuring differentiated reading passages, videos, maps, and images, the variety of activities kept students engaged and eager to explore.

Contact your dedicated Account Manager:

Mesa Heise
Director of Bids & Contracts

Learn More About Mackin Educational Resources

Amazement in their eyes’: Reading Coach uses AI to help students create their own stories

By Bill Briggs

Have we got a story for you.

Actually, let’s rephrase that: Author Kayleen Torres has a story for you. And here’s how it starts:

Once upon a time, in a land far away, dwelled a most curious feline known as Luna. Luna, a monochromatic domesticized cat with piercing emerald-tinted eyes, had a deep-seated yearning for adventure and exploration beyond the norm. 

Kayleen’s enchanting plot ultimately twirls and twists to reveal that Luna struts into a soccer stadium where some athletes invite her to join their game. Turns out, Luna can seriously boot the ball with her fuzzy paws. Soon, that green-eyed kitty with the daring spirit becomes a star.

“Her team wins because the cat, like, scores a goal – or something,” Kayleen explains. “A cat is, like, my favorite animal.”

Yes, the author is 10 years old.

A fifth grader at Baldwin Academy, an elementary school near Los Angeles, Kayleen created her tale using the new version of Microsoft Reading Coach. The free tool now harnesses generative AI, which helps learners produce their own stories. They can pick their characters and settings – all while working at their reading level.

Fifth grader Joshua Munoz reads aloud a story that was freshly generated by Reading Coach.

Kayleen is one of several hundred students in the U.S., the U.K. and India now testing the enhanced Reading Coach as part of a public preview. The pilot’s largest group spans about 75 students in the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District, which includes Baldwin Academy.

“They love it,” says Ana Ruiz, a fifth-grade teacher at Baldwin Academy. “Every student can choose what they want it to be. I have students who read at a ninth-grade level, kids who need reading support and students in-between. Being able to pick a reading level is such a game changer.”

Reading Coach – one of the Learning Accelerators available via Microsoft Education – also directs students to read their stories aloud into a computer microphone. It then detects the words they find challenging and guides them to independently say and practice those terms.

For Kayleen, her practice words included “principal,” “little” and “cool.” She uses Reading Coach about once a day, she says, often on a computer at her home in La Puente, California.

“With AI, it’s different from all the other stuff (at school) because you make it yourself,” Kayleen says. “I like the feeling of that. I like to do the stuff that I make.”

At home or at school, kids can use Reading Coach as a Windows application or a browser-based experience.

Contact your dedicated Account Manager:

Othniel Tucker
Account Executive

Take your students’ drone skills from zero to pro with our Drone Maker Kit and Echo Drone.

Drones are all the buzz! They’re extremely engaging, and they provide future-relevant learning for all ages. Drones expose learners to employability skills – flight vocabulary, physics, and soft skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving. And, the list of jobs utilizing such skills is always growing.

Drone Maker Kit (92130)

Get a system for designing, building, and flying a drone! This kit is customizable and enables learners to create their own design – honing those engineering skills. This kit brings the ultimate level of engagement while also teaching basic aviation principles. It’s failproof, safe, and FUN!

Echo Drone (92786) – This out-of-the-box flyer has no engineering required – you’re up and flying in minutes. Each drone includes a controller and connects to an app, enabling advanced learners to transition from remote control to coding navigation. The app also transmits images and video to a smartphone via Wi-Fi using the drone’s onboard camera. Check the press release here on the Echo Drone.

Visit or your Pitsco marketplace to shop these and more hands-on, minds-on products that will be sure to engage and educate your learners!

When shopping directly with Pitsco Education, don’t forget to use code AEPACTE at checkout for your exclusive 2% discount. Valid through May 2026.

Contact your dedicated Account Manager:

Erica Lopez-Negrete Smith
Illinois Sales

Learn More About Pitsco Education
Pitsco Education Blog

Newsela’s Philosophy on AI Tools for Education

At Newsela, they believe the best education solutions power great teaching, they don’t replace it. Regarding AI tools for education, there are opportunities for positive classroom impact, potential areas of caution, and steep new learning curves. No matter how clever or powerful these new solutions are, there will always be a need for the uniquely human ability of teachers to empathize, connect, inspire, and smile with students.

What is Newsela’s philosophy on AI in education?

As you navigate this new frontier, they want to be transparent about our position on artificial intelligence in education and how Newsela uses it in our products:

  • They strongly believe that teachers know what’s best for their students and should always continue to be the architects, planners, and decision-makers in the classroom.
  • The teacher-student interaction is where learning is at its best. AI should be used to save teachers’ time and make certain tasks easier, creating space and time for teachers to have more powerful one-on-one moments in the classroom.
  • Privacy is always a priority. They ensure that all user data—whether from students, teachers, or other stakeholders—is meticulously blinded. This means that the teams and AI systems involved in leveraging the data won’t be able to associate it with an individual.
  • Their models thrive on aggregated data during the rigorous training process, and each iteration is quality-checked by our team before release. This dual-layered approach ensures the highest standards in the development of our AI systems and never loses the human element of what teaching and learning are all about.
  • They also know that education products must be built with teacher input. We leverage robust research, teacher feedback, and in-classroom experiences to drive the most valuable solutions at every step in the development process.
  • They believe the more specific the application of AI, the better. They always apply it to solve for a clear classroom use case. They focus on ensuring that our machine learning models have the right context and behaviors to deliver valuable outputs, specifically in a classroom setting.

How does Newsela use AI in its products?

For Newsela ELA, Newsela Social Studies, and Newsela Science, we leverage AI in:

  • Article planning supports—including main idea, key terms, discussion questions, and before-reading activity ideas for each text
  • Article topic tags
  • Generating Tier 3 vocabulary definitions
  • Generating writing prompts

For Formative, AI supports:

  • Generating questions, answer hints, and writing prompts
  • Flashcard and practice set generation

For EverWrite (beta), we use AI to power:

  • Real-time student writing feedback delivery, aligned to a chosen rubric
  • Assignment writing prompt generation

At Newsela, their goal is to open up teachers’ abilities to do what they do best: bring learning to life for their students in a deeply personal, human way.

Contact your dedicated Account Manager:

General inquiries:

Districts with 3000+ students
Patrick Gaffney
Illinois Partnerships

Districts with less than 3000 students
Claire Vock
Illinois Partnerships

Learn More About Newsela

Revolutionizing the K-12 Experience: A Smart School Layout

Student outcomes are suffering, but enhancing the learning experience can be easier than you think. We’ve seen schools with the biggest success go beyond standards, salaries, and curriculums to a focus on the network.

With a smart network, they’re optimizing school operations with:

  • Cloud management that saves on operational and support costs
  • AI automation to simplify backend processes
  • E-Rate-eligible networking solutions that put dollars back in the budget
  • Sophisticated Wi-Fi connectivity for an advanced student and staff experience
  • Advanced intelligence to take on redundant IT tasks
  • Built-in security layers that bring peace of mind from cyber threats

The result is a school network that can support the connectivity and operations that help make education easier for everyone – from students and teachers to parents and administrators.

Want a closer look? Take a peek at our infographic, Revolutionizing the Education Experience: A Smart School Layout.

Contact your dedicated Account Manager:

Extreme Networks
Joe Yeagle
Senior Account Executive

Matt Ward
VSAM / Extreme Networks

Contact your Reseller Account Managers:

John Buttita
Sales Manager

Learn More About Extreme Networks

The Best Chromebooks for Students

To find the best Chromebooks for students, it’s important to think about how technology and education are connected. Today all students need reliable, durable, and high-performing computing devices with seamless connectivity to achieve what the National Education Association has termed “digital equity,” defined as:

“Digital equity ensures that all school-aged children have equal access to the resources they need for remote learning. These resources include internet and computer access. It is important for all children to have these resources, regardless of their circumstances. This ensures that they can fully engage in remote learning from home.”

— National Education Association, “Digital Equity for Students and Education Report”

Schools have done a great job at providing Chromebooks to students and there is a lot to choose from. However, making the right Chromebook technology investment is essential. IT departments at school districts and private schools should consider Chromebooks based on three essential criteria: future-proof performance, flexibility, and sustainability.

Future-proofing for technology challenges with student Chromebooks

Many schools offered 1:1 devices to students during the pandemic. Today, because of the age of these devices and the increasing computing power needs for applications such as AI, it’s time for a technology upgrade. Consider devices that can withstand the constant demands of schoolwork, can connect from anywhere, and offer a long-term plan for updates to ensure school district investments enjoy an excellent return on investment (ROI).

Chromebooks provide all the latest technological advancements with the processing power that students need today. Consider 4G and 8G RAM, at least 64G flash memory, and the processing power of Intel’s N100 or N200 chipsets.

Additionally, consider your connectivity plan. Some schools are now extending their networks beyond the school walls with private LTE networks, as demonstrated in a recent implementation in Tukwila. School districts are looking to provide connectivity at home in addition to at school, regardless of student’s economic situation and availability of a home network. Ensure your Chromebooks for students offer LTE connectivity capability. Thinking ahead, also ask about 5G potential connectivity plans as 5G reduced capability networks will eventually replace LTE.

One advantage that Chromebooks deliver over traditional laptops in the future-proof category is what’s commonly called “AU,” or Automatic Updates. According to Google, “Chrome devices (e.g. Chromebook, Chromebox, Chromebase, Chromebit) receive automatic updates that enhance both the device and its software. Automatic updates deliver the latest features, maintain device security, and apply across the operating system, browser, and hardware. Chromebooks receive 10 years of AUE.” Longevity of use is built into Chromebooks, maximizing a school district’s technology investment.


Contact your dedicated Account Manager:

Maureen Cooney
Account Manager

Learn More About CTL

Check out the current line of Chromebooks from CTL.

How-to Action Plans to Navigate Developing K-12 Education Trends

by: Brian Thomas, President and CEO of Lightspeed Systems

Educators are quite familiar with overcoming challenges, as the last four years have presented more disruption to school districts than at any time in recent history. Despite the unparalleled levels of disruption, several developing K-12 education trends have emerged.

This post highlights four prevailing education trends and provides an overview of how-to action plans to get your district proactively addressing its highest-priority challenges.

Cyberattacks on K-12 Schools Continue to Rise

Cybersecurity attacks present a costly threat to school districts across the United States. According to Comparitech, a cybersecurity and online privacy product review website, global ransomware attacks against K-12 and higher education institutions—breaching over 6.7 million personal records—cost over $53 billion in downtime between 2018 and mid-September 2023.

Cyberattacks on K-12 school districts are rising as cybercriminals identify districts as lucrative targets. Student information systems (SIS) store personally identifiable information (PII) of both students and staff, and many districts simply lack the resources to layer essential cybersecurity measures. The result is district data remains increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks.

The Lightspeed Systems 2022 EdTech App Report showed most districts have more than 2,000 apps in use across their student population, but that only 300 apps account for 99 percent of student use. Regardless of usage rates, district IT leaders are responsible for safeguarding students’ personally identifiable information (PII) on all apps in the district, including the remaining 1,700 infrequently used apps. Unsecure websites and “rogue” apps, those used by staff and students but not vetted by IT, easily slip through the cracks, creating openings for cybercriminals to enter.

Recovering systems after an attack is both costly and time-consuming. In addition to often paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom, district networks are down an average of four days, and require30 days to fully recover.

Action Plan:

  1. Audit all applications in use across your school district, their privacy policies, and data security practices. Third-party analysis of privacy policies provides a reliable source of expertise. These steps can be completed manually or accelerated with digital intelligence software.
  2. Block students and staff from accessing new and unknown websites. Millions of new sites come online each day and the vast majority aren’t educational. These sites can be malicious and until they are categorized by your web content filter, the safest option is simply to prohibit access. If you’re using a web filter with an AI-driven dynamic database, educational or appropriate sites won’t remain uncategorized for more than a couple of hours.
  3. Inform all stakeholders about the importance of cybersecurity and data privacy to empower them with the knowledge to protect their privacy and the community. Mitigate risk by teaching staff and students about phishing emails and rouge apps to help prevent them from unintentionally opening malware that will leave them and your district vulnerable.


Contact your dedicated Account Manager:

Lightspeed Systems
Mike Durando
Vice President of Sales

Learn More About Lightspeed Systems

Frictionless Learning, Fortified Security: AI’s Role in Protecting Students and Boosting iPad Learning

Writer's picture Kevin Kuckkan, M.Ed, Deledao Education

In today’s digitally driven K12 classrooms, iPads remain popular educational learning tools, unlocking a world of interactive possibilities. However, ensuring a safe and productive online environment remains a pressing challenge. Conventional content filters often fall short, leaving students vulnerable to inappropriate content while inadvertently blocking valuable educational resources. This creates a delicate balancing act for K12 IT teams, burdened with maintaining student safety while navigating complex technical hurdles and juggling limited resources.

The limitations of traditional filtering methods are undeniable. Static blocklists, easily circumvented by tech-savvy students, prove ineffective against new and emerging threats. They often rely on keyword matching, leading to unintentional overblocking of legitimate educational content. This disrupts learning and frustrates students and educators alike. Additionally, deploying and managing these filters across numerous devices requires dedicated IT personnel, straining already stretched resources.

Contact your dedicated Account Manager:

Greg Richman
Director of Sales & Channel Partnerships