Chip Kimball is well on his way to achieving the goal he has set for himself and the Lake Washington School District.

“My charter was to create the most information-rich school district in the country,” he said. “Ideally, we want to use technology for the betterment of the whole system.”

Kimball, the assistant superintendent for Lake Washington, is a former science teacher and technology coordinator for Madera School District and has held positions as a private-sector technology consultant and Technology Center Fellow.

He recently led his district to the largest funding measure in its history ($260 million), including $30 million for technology. A successful grant writer and public speaker, Kimball also has published numerous works on funding, technology planning, and implementation.

Lake Washington, located in Redmond, Wash., consists of 42 schools and an estimated 25,000 students

If one glance at Lake Washington’s impressive web site is not enough to convince browsers that this is one tech-savvy school district, then the ambitious technology plan outlined by Kimball no doubt would convert them.

“We have created four areas of focus, in order of priority: infrastructure, access, culture, and information resources,” Kimball explained.

Kimball believes the first two aspects of his four-part technology plan are key to paving a school district’s way to the information superhighway: In order to harness technology’s true potential, leaders must first pay attention to infrastructure and access, he said.

Lake Washington has already achieved a large portion of its hardware and software goals. “We have rewired our whole school district with fiber optic cables at all levels,” Kimball stated. “We have fiber optics direct to our classrooms.”

High-bandwidth technology provided through fiber-optics is especially impressive, considering there are school systems nationwide still waiting for any kind of internet access.

In addition to very high-speed internet access for Lake Washington’s students, Kimball has helped the district achieve one of the best student to computer ratios in the nation, with four students to every multimedia computer district-wide.

But Kimball and his district are not just committed to providing their students with computers and internet access. As part of its infrastructure initiatives, the district has pledged that none of its equipment will be any older than five years.

“That means that in any given year, we upgrade 20 percent of our equipment,” Kimball noted, and added that Lake Washington students are learning how to use very current equipment.

Culture of technology

The district is currently focusing its energies on the third part of the four-fold technology plan by trying to create a culture of technology at Lake Washington.

In order to ensure that teachers are provided with the training they need to utilize Lake Washington’s high-level technology for teaching and learning, district leaders have implemented a four-step professional development program.

The first step helps turn computer-illiterate educators into “information navigators.” Kimball defined the information navigator as a staff member who “can demonstrate basic skills.” These teachers and administrators should be able to use and apply software such as Word, Excel, and Access, use search engines to find information on the world wide web, and feel comfortable with Windows-based architecture.

The district has set teacher standards to be proficiency-based rather than “seat-time” based, according to Kimball, which means teachers must demonstrate an actual cache of computer knowledge, not just an attendance at computer training sessions.

The second level that educators are encouraged to attain is the “information integrator.” Kimball defines this type of staff member as one who “can integrate technology into a student-centered, project-based curriculum.” Integrators attempt to facilitate a technology-rich environment at their school, Kimball said, and Lake Washington plans to foster this philosophy by sending all 13,000 teachers in the district to a six-day summer institute on the subject.

The third level that tech-culture leaders in the district hope to achieve is the “information synthesizer.” This is a person who can use computer data effectively in order to assess statistics, look at patterns, and understand demographics to better serve students.

Kimball hopes that many educators will reach the highest level of technology culture and become what Lake Washington calls an “information mentor.” Mentors have the capabilities necessary to teach other colleagues how to use technology effectively.

He estimates that 50 percent of the staff is now up to the “navigator” level, and about 250 educators are “integrators” as of last summer’s training institute. In order to ensure that the district is not supplying untrained teachers with high-tech equipment, schools only become eligible for computer upgrades after a certain number of educators have completed integrator training. The district expects 500 educators to attend the institute next summer and another 500 to attend in 2001.

Kimball’s philosophy on staff development in schools indicates his commitment to providing Lake Washington students with a technology-rich learning environment: “We have high expectations of our staff. We don’t want you to work here unless you are comfortable with and able to use technology.”

The emphasis on computer learning is also demonstrated by the fact that the only way to get a job at Lake Washington School District is through the web.

The fourth and final stage of Kimball’s technology plan—the information resource component—is a wide-reaching goal for all educational activities to be accessible electronically. For example, if students are studying the Civil War, they could log on to the district’s network; receive a list of all appropriate sites, texts, and sources; find their assignment; and receive instruction and feedback. Lake Washington already has its card catalogs, encyclopedias, and other sources online.

Kimball said that Lake Washington is working on this final goal in conjunction with the Washington State Department of Education, and the district hopes to have this component operational by next fall. But, he added, “We’ve had problems finding adequate products. We may have to develop this [component] ourselves.”

Lake Washington School District

http://www.lkwash.wednet.edu