Washington’s 2,250 superintendents, principals, and private school leaders will receive free computer training beginning next summer, thanks in part to a $2 million grant from Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda. The grant will fund the first year of a program called “Smart Tools Academy,” a three-year commitment to train the state’s school leaders in technology.

The academy, which will consist of three-day seminars at one of four state universities, will train 750 school officials each summer for the next three summers. Each administrator will leave the academy with a state-of-the-art laptop for his or her professional use.

“We’re going to talk about understanding how computer training can be used in the classroom,” Brian Chee, Smart Tools Academy program director, told the Associated Press. “We’ll discuss, for example, how computer technology can be used to improve reading skills, science and math programs, and word processing.”

The seminars will include a combination of presentations, speakers, case studies, small and large group discussions, reviews of the best programs in operation, and the chance to work with colleagues, Chee said.

Ten sessions are scheduled for next summer: two at Washington State University, two at Central Washington University, three at Western Washington University, and three at Evergreen State College.

Cultivating exemplary leaders

The academy is the brainchild of the Technology Alliance, a consortium of technology-based Washington businesses, trade associations, and research institutions, in conjunction with the University of Washington.

Susannah Malarkey, executive director of the Technology Alliance, told eSchool News the idea stemmed from recommendations of the Alliance’s Technology in Education task force, a 25-member team with expertise on technology in schools.

After surveying each of the state’s 296 districts, the task force noted that the most technology-rich districts each had exemplary leaders: “Superintendents with vision who were willing to focus their resources, find new resources, convince school board members and parents of technology’s worth,” Malarkey said.

Louis Fox, vice provost for educational partnerships for the University of Washington and the academy’s co-director, agreed. “The best way to effectively integrate technology into the classroom and the learning process is with the active support and participation of school leaders,” Fox said.

While recognizing that successful school technology programs start with good leadership, the task force also saw there was no systematic way for school leaders to develop such skills. “That was the germ of the idea for the academy,” Malarkey said.

The academy’s curriculum is being written by a committee of the top technology leaders among the state’s schools, Malarkey said. “We gave them a budget and outlined our goals–but we wanted the school leaders themselves to shape the curriculum,” she said.

Academy goals

Among the goals of the program are for administrators to:

• Understand the ways educational technology contributes to student learning, curriculum integration, and the creation of educational communities;

• Prepare for the management challenges associated with introducing and supporting technology into an organization;

• Develop a technology plan for their schools or districts, including a thoughtful approach to staff professional development;

• Explore models for involving the community in school day and after-hours technology programs at schools; and

• Increase their productivity and understanding of technology through hands-on training in the use of technology tools.

After the initial donation from the Gates family, funding will come from a variety of corporate and private sponsors, Malarkey said. “The biggest challenge for us is funding laptops for everyone–that’s half our budget,” she said.

The academy will launch as a pilot program in April with about 25 participants, Malarkey said. The first general session is scheduled at Western Washington University July 7 to 9.

University of Washington

http://www.washington.edu

Microsoft Corp.

http://www.microsoft.com