The Oswego City School District and its assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, and technology, Ken Eastwood, have come a long way from earlier this decade, when the school system in upstate New York was mired in obsolete computer equipment, little or no staff development, and a general lack of a long-term vision.

What a difference a vision can make.

In the past two years, the district has been recognized by a variety of organizations—including the U.S. Department of Education, Compaq, Microsoft, and Xerox—for its technology planning and implementation.

Eastwood himself was a Computerworld Smithsonian laureate this year, and last year he received a “Master of Innovation” award from Digital Equipment Corp.

The title of an article Eastwood co-authored for the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development’s Curriculum/Technology Quarterly sums up his experiences best. The paper, “Integrating Technology into Instruction: How We Became One of the Best by Simply Listening,” describes how the district just a few years ago “had no (technology) plan and purchased equipment accordingly.”

Eastwood said it’s a trap school districts continue to fall into.

“There’s still a lot of throwing boxes in the classroom,” said Eastwood, referring to the practice of buying technology without assessing the school’s or district’s needs. “What happens is, teachers hardly ever use the equipment, because they don’t see the utility to it.”

But things changed around 1994, when Oswego took a different approach. First, the district found out what teachers’ needs were; then it looked to technology to provide solutions to those needs.

‘Startling discrepancies’

In assessing the district’s needs, Eastwood turned to Oswego’s 415 teachers—interviewing them, surveying them, and interviewing them again, he recalled.

“We’ve found that if you match technology to the teachers’ needs, it does get used and it does have value,” he said.

The district’s technology plan became based almost entirely on teachers’ perceptions of their instructional needs, while the interview process turned up other issues Eastwood would have to address.

There were “startling discrepancies” between classroom teachers’ perceptions of need and those of the district’s administrators and technologists, who Eastwood said had previously driven technology buying in Oswego.

For example, teachers wanted computers in their classrooms; technologists wanted them in labs. Teachers wanted professional staff developers to conduct technology training; the technologists wanted to conduct the training themselves.

“In many cases, the theory is you take your standout computer people, train them heavily, and let them train the rest of the teachers,” Eastwood said.

But the teachers in Oswego complained that previous trainers from within the district were not patient and didn’t understand their needs. They whipped through lessons and used language the teachers didn’t understand.

“The result was that teachers would go to training, be intimidated, and never go back,” said Eastwood.

Immediate success

Despite their previous poor experiences, teachers overwhelmingly were ready to get involved in technology under the right circumstances, which meant professional staff development from outside the district and software decisions driven by instructional needs.

And that’s exactly what the Oswego City School District did.

Hardware and software decisions accurately matched classroom instructional needs. The district introduced staff development programs that kept in mind teachers’ comfort levels, technology integration, and support in the classroom.

The teacher-friendly courses were an immediate success, with instructors logging an average of 100 hours of training, some as many as 300 hours.

The district also instituted technology maintenance programs that recognize teachers are educators, not technologists. When teachers have a problem with a classroom computer, they simply call a help desk for support.

Thanks to a high-speed, reliable network, 75 percent of the district’s troubleshooting is done remotely from a central location.

Oswego’s technology infrastructure, held together by a fiber-based wide area network, was an important part of the district’s ability to facilitate technology improvements in the classroom.

Eastwood said the network was designed to meet not only current needs, but also future ones. This is achieved by building an infrastructure that was stable, flexible, manageable, high-performance, and cost-effective.

Because technology improvements have a pricetag, the district’s commitment to fiscal support for technology integration was a vital step. School district leaders backed a 2 percent budget increase to improve technology, providing a consistent flow of money for replacing old equipment, maintaining the new equipment, ensuring support for teachers, and most importantly, providing continuous staff development.

The Oswego City School District consists of five elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. The district has a student enrollment of roughly 5,600.

Eastwood has been with the district since 1990, arriving just ahead of a new superintendent who was interested in turning Oswego’s technology efforts around.

Before arriving in Oswego, Eastwood held a variety of public sector administrative positions, most recently serving as the executive assistant for a U.S. congressman. Most of his previous jobs were education-related, starting as a teacher and later serving as an administrator.

In 1987, he returned to school to earn a doctoral degree in education from Syracuse University. And if Oswego’s current experience is any indication, Eastwood seems to have cured the district of its technology ills and has it well on the road to recovery.

Oswego City School District

U.S. Department of Education

Compaq Computer Corp.

Microsoft Corp.

Xerox Corp.