Take These Picks
We asked readers to relate their most successful technology strategies. Here are three that prove what a successful implementation can do for a district. Do you have a District Pick you want to share? You may see your story in an upcoming issue.
SA's 2006 District Picks
District: Gwinn Area Community Schools, Gwinn, Michigan
Strategy: Automated assessment
• What they wrote: When elementary schools’ 1999 state writing test scores fell 31 percentage points from 1998 levels, Gwinn educators knew they needed to take action. However, they lacked the means to effectively assess the quality of teaching and learning and to determine how to address areas of weakness.
The small, rural district set out to establish such a framework by implementing a program for school improvement through two Comprehensive School Reform grants. They chose to work with Co-nect (now Pearson Achievement Solutions) for its school improvement work. Through the initial three-year school improvement program, they were introduced to a set of research-based diagnostic tools that enabled schools to define, measure, and improve the quality of instruction.
Teachers use the diagnostics tool—a classroom walkthrough/observation tool and student work analysis tools—throughout the year to improve teaching and learning. They also used these tools to initiate end-of-year community reviews. During these reviews, a team of community members, teachers from other schools, parents, and board members use the tools to evaluate all the classrooms. Their data and comments are compiled into a report that helps set improvement goals, plan professional development to address identified gaps, and bolster areas of demonstrated student weakness.
Educational leaders also encourage ongoing teacher collaboration through programs like peer evaluations and lesson studies and hold meetings to keep teachers discussing effective teaching practices. In addition, each school has a school improvement team composed of teachers, parents, and administrators who plan professional development, set goals for the year, and monitor progress toward those goals. Through their efforts, they have implemented a clear, consistent framework for what constitutes high-quality student work and instruction, gained the assessment data to direct professional development and instruction to address areas of academic weakness, and improved student and teacher performance in all Gwinn schools.
District: Newark Public Schools, Newark, New Jersey
Strategy: Improved literacy through e-mail
• What they wrote: The New Jersey state standardized test scores from a Newark Public Schools fourth-grade class show strong indicators of significant reading and writing improvement through use of simple e-mail letter writing with fellow classmates and a peer classroom in Italy. The fourth-grade class at Roseville Avenue Elementary School in Newark Public Schools used a protected and multilingual school e-mail solution and global classroom network called ePALS Classroom Exchange for e-mail letter writing exchanges twice a week with an ePALS peer classroom in Bologna, Italy.
Twice a week, the students were required to read and write proper e-mail letters using the ePALS SchoolMai solution as part of the curriculum. Students became increasingly motivated to e-mail their peers and gradually increased the amount of reading and writing they normally would perform each week. Before and during the pilot, ePALS Classroom Exchange conducted several teacher training workshops in Newark to demonstrate and provide examples of how ePALS SchoolMail could be easily integrated with literacy projects and lesson plans in the classroom. The Newark pilot also suggests that students may be more motivated to do classroom assignments with a collaborative peer using e-mail than for the teacher with pencil and paper.
District: Edina Public Schools, Edina, Minnesota
Strategy: Installed video on demand
• What they wrote: The Edina Public School District in suburban Minneapolis is deploying digital video capabilities for student on-demand educational programming and faculty training. It is using VBrick to stream live events to the classroom, distribute programming that students and teachers develop, and stream cable television to the classroom. In 2005, Edina upgraded its network backbone to converge all communications—voice, data, and video—onto a single Internet-based network. An integrated communications network eliminated burdensome requirements to manage both Internet-based and coaxial cable networks. Most important, Edina’s IP convergence strategy addressed the district’s requirements to provide teachers with digital video multimedia capabilities. The district’s Media and Technology Services supports diverse IT requirements for the district’s more than 7,500 students and nearly 1,140 teachers and support staff.
Prior to selecting a digital video solution, Edina’s 4,000-title VHS tape library was cumbersome for both administrators and teachers, requiring the district to devote significant resources for delivering, retrieving, and cataloging VHS tapes. The VHS tape system also limited teacher selection to videos on the media library shelves, which created scheduling challenges for teachers trying to incorporate relevant video into tightly scheduled lesson plans. Edina’s innovative solution reflects technology’s role in its operational initiatives.