Getting The Read on L.A. Students
Every year FOR its annual District Salute, the National School Board Association (NSBA) recognizes three districts for their exceptional use of technology. Whether implemented in the classroom or the district’s infrastructure, and whether intended to train teachers or help meet federal mandates, the technology in these districts ultimately improves academic achievement, raises test scores, and prepares students for the real world. Read how.
MANY HAPPY RETURNS
Richland (SC) School District Two believes in giving taxpayers a return on investment. So it invests in readying students for the tech-driven 21st century. The district, in Columbia, South Carolina, is a veritable treasure trove of resources that improve academic achievement for its more than 20,000 students in PreK–12 and train them in technology skills and literacy.
Throughout the district, students and teachers are linked to a digital world. A virtual classroom and collaboration system connects students with online information. Students view online assessments and electronically submit assignments through the digital drop box. From home, school, or any other location with Internet connectivity, groups collaborate on discussion topics online.
Each classroom also has streaming digital video capabilities, and teachers can access more than 40,000 digital video clips. “Teachers look up a particular curriculum standard to find a video clip they can use to kick off a lesson or review certain points,” says Tom Cranmer, director of information technology.
In the Media Convergence high school program, which is one-of-a-kind in the nation, students receive instruction and real-world practice in converged media management. The program is designed to attract future web page designers, graphic artists, photographers, video editors, and information flow managers, as well as traditional journalism students. Students work collaboratively in managing, producing, and distributing news information. The curriculum includes instruction on web media, print media—including text messaging and cell phone news alerts—e-mail news alerts, and streaming video for mass distribution. Students also study video production and modern journalistic writing.
The district reinvests the returns in a number of initiatives, one of which is automating classroom observations. District administrators visit classrooms several times a week, and rollout has started to provide them with wireless tablets to make the process paperless. With the tablet stylus, observers can check off the required items, as well as write comments freehand, before they electronically submit their findings to be compiled in a centralized database. “It gives us a way to know what’s going on in the classroom,” says Cranmer. “We know what the kids are learning.”
Upgrade and Engage
In Clark County (GA) School District, staff use laptops for their training, and students take notes on a lesson projected on a SMART Board.
Clark County (GA) School District has a plan. Three years ago this district, located in Athens, Georgia, with approximately 11,500 students in grades K–12, adopted a comprehensive improvement process. Under this practice, schools submitted their plans for review and approval. The district then aggregated the schools’ needs and deployed the necessary technology to best support the schools in accomplishing their objective—using a total of $6.7 million in technology capital improvement funds over five years.
To further assure that school and district goals were met, Clark County held a Technology Summit in 2004, attended by 85 representatives from the district and community. The purpose of the summit was to set priorities for the allocation of resources and to ensure that technology would directly support actionable steps. Noteworthy among the tools deployed to schools include iPods to enhance language learning at the high school level for English Language Learners, interactive whiteboards to promote literacy and numeracy in the primary grades, mobile computing solutions to increase writing opportunities in the middle grades, and an online virtual museum to celebrate the visual arts.
The improvement funds extend even further. The allocations equip teachers with new laptops as older models are redeployed as classroom sets for student use. Other instructional computers will be replaced every three years, and each school has two wireless laptop carts. All classrooms are being outfitted with mounted projection systems, and interactive whiteboards will be placed in every newly constructed and renovated classroom. According to Paul Sims, executive director of technology and continuous improvement, teacher response has been tremendous. “Students are fully interacting in the classroom,” he says, “and because the teachers have all the resources they need right in front of them, they have more time to teach.”
Additionally, Clark County’s network infrastructure was upgraded to a fiber-optic metropolitan area network three years ago, linking the district’s 22 schools and administrative offices with a 100MB connection and with a 1GB connection to the district’s data center. Because of this connectivity, Clark County is completing the process of moving to VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). The new phone system will give teachers voice-mail boxes, which the district hopes will promote parent-teacher communication.
Clark County is also setting up teleconferencing throughout the district. “Teleconferencing will increase cooperation by bringing together more staff for meetings without pulling them off-site,” says Sims.
To keep up with the rigor of NCLB, the district created a position to focus solely on school and district improvement. This year, the school board transferred the position to the technology division, reinforcing the idea that data analysis must drive decisions for school improvement. Clark County is also creating a district-wide plan to set the course of action taken the first year a school fails to make adequate yearly progress. Based on the school’s needs, the district will mobilize resources—for example, hire an educational-reform facilitator.
In NISD in Texas, students and staff work on more than 3,000 computers.
Northside (TX) Independent School District (NISD) is taking its tech to a higher level. Located in northwest San Antonio, the district is charging forward into the second year of its technology redesign to ensure that its 75,000 students and 11,000 employees have the tools they need and the skills to use them. The Technology Services Division oversees this challenge, running six different service areas including curriculum, technology management, library services, professional development, the district’s infrastructure, and information services.
The technology services team meets weekly to discuss progress toward written goals and objectives. The team reviews systems, programs, and funding to ensure that current and emerging technology is being used efficiently and effectively. Kelly Smith, the assistant superintendent for technology services, additionally meets with administrators and other instructional leaders to facilitate ongoing assessment and the continued integration of technology.
Strong community support allows for most of the district’s tech success. Since 1995, NISD has received $124 million in bonds for technology. The 2004 bond granted the district $40 million to help improve the district’s hardware, security, infrastructure, and information systems. The funding also allows for three major initiatives under way in the district.
The first initiative deployed more than 3,000 computers and 1,500 printers to students and staff on 17 campuses between June and December 2004. Since then, three campuses per month receive upgrades, and each campus is on a six-year replacement cycle. “We’ve implemented an integrated service model to better respond to the needs expressed by campus administrators and staff,” says Smith. The service delivery approach means that technology staff members from every service area coordinate and synchronize all campus-based technology projects.
NISD is also in its second year of its Technology Core Competencies for Employees. Under this initiative, all staff members receive a checklist of the technology knowledge and skills required for optimal job performance. The core competencies vary among teachers, administrators, and secretaries—anyone in the district with access to a computer—depending on their job description and responsibilities. “All staff use the list to see what they know now and what they need to improve on,” says Smith.
This fall, NISD is also rolling out its new parent-connection system. In 2004–05, four districts tried out the program to increase communication between school and home. With the program, parents can check their children’s grades and attendance on a daily basis. The pilot program was an enormous success. “Parents we surveyed used the program at least four times a week,” says Smith. “And we were surprised by how many students used it.”
Phase one of the program is reaching all schools now and will be followed by two additional phases. In the next phase, scheduled to launch in spring 2006, the outreach module will allow parents to view longitudinal assessment data, demographic data, teacher web pages, and class calendars. The final phase will provide the chance to complete school business transactions online, such as conducting credit card payments for meals, fees, and fines.