The accolades are rolling in for the Governor Mifflin School District of Pennsylvania and its technology director, Sandra Becker. Four years and $4 million after the district’s technology plan was conceived, the school system and its technology chief are being recognized by a variety of organizations for their exemplary approach to technology.

Written in 1995, the district’s technology plan has been implemented in stages and will culminate this fall, when every office and classroom will be connected to a wide area network (WAN) and the internet. The implementation includes network and eMail servers, a back office suite, multiple T1 lines, and fiber optic cabling.

When finished, the WAN will connect five schools, an administrative office, and maintenance and transportation facilities.

But while infrastructure was a necessary piece of the puzzle, the true heart of the plan is its ties to curriculum–and how the school system is using technology to enhance the education of its 4,000-plus students.

“Before I invest in technology, I want to know how I’m going to use it and how it’s going to benefit the kids,” Becker said.

The district first sought to integrate technology into its math program for primary school students. To facilitate an integrated learning system, the district placed four networked computers in every classroom in grades 2-6.

Teachers began using the computers to run tool-based software and to assign projects that required the use of technology. Technology soon spread to science teachers and to communication via the internet by 1997.

The use of technology evolved with the students as they grew. Last fall, Becker met with the district’s middle school computer applications teachers, who told her they could teach students all current technologies by the end of eighth grade.

This meant that high school teachers could be reasonably assured that entering students could perform tasks such as producing and editing digital images and video, creating Hyperstudio stacks, conducting web searches, and creating their own web pages.

Personal accolades

Becker, meanwhile, was herself being recognized for her role in developing and nurturing the technology plan. Before becoming the district’s full-time director of technology, Becker served as a math instructor at Governor Mifflin Senior High School. The roots of the district’s technology plan stem from Becker’s studies on innovative instructional systems in preparation for her doctorate degree.

But her work did not stop with her degree–nor did it slow with her move to the district’s administrative ranks, as evidenced by the relationship Becker has fostered with Apple Computer.

She participated in Camp Apple ’98, Provocation ’98, and continues to work with Apple’s Learning Interchange and Learning Community. She is an Apple Distinguished Educator for 1998 and 1999.

Her work with the company led Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs to nominate the district for a Computerworld Smithsonian Award.

On April 12, the district’s technology plan became part of the Permanent Research Collection on Information Technology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., where Becker accepted the district’s Computerworld Smithsonian Laureate Award in the Education and Academia category.

The preliminary award is given to several schools, districts, universities, and educational organizations, which then vie for the top award in the educational category. The finalists and winner were announced after press time.

“The primary source material submitted by Governor Mifflin School District will enrich the National Museum of American History’s growing collection on the history of information technology, and contribute significantly to the museum’s ongoing efforts to chronicle the Information Age,” commented museum director Spencer R. Crew.

Four days after accepting the Computerworld Smithsonian laureate for her district, Becker was in Baltimore to receive a STAR (Spectacular Teachers Achieving Results) Award from Classroom Connect. The award recognizes educators who make strides in bringing the internet into classrooms.

Though no longer a teacher, Becker was nominated for the award by Classroom Connect’s Scott Noon, who felt it was time for the organization to recognize administrators for their role in supporting teachers.

And despite her administrative role, Becker continues to be hands-on with students as well as teachers. She also makes it a point to pilot technology projects herself before expecting teachers to hop on board.

“I firmly believe that directors of technology must model the use of technology,” she said.

Internet projects

The district’s internet projects illustrate Becker’s commitment to both teachers and students.

For example, the Governor Mifflin web site grew out of a student’s desire to build a site as his graduation project. Becker served as the student’s mentor for two years as the site was being developed, exploring web creation and bringing in other students.

Then came an idea to build a Year 2000 web site. Last summer, Becker collaborated with four students and a classroom teacher to develop the site after proposing the idea to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

“The goal was to create a district web site detailing the preparation, research, and process necessary to address the Y2K issues,” she said.

Students used the web to conduct their research, discovering information, forms, patches, and tools. The students even served on a district committee charged with solving Y2K problems.

Governor Mifflin School District

Computerworld Smithsonian Award Program

Classroom Connect