2001 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards

The district has installed distance-learning labs in all 10 middle schools, eight high schools, and two alternative schools. These labs are used for instruction as well as professional development. The district also uses a computerized assessment system that provides data to help administrators make informed decisions about instruction. The data from this system has had a great impact on improving students’ outcomes on standardized tests. To make students and staff safer, 20 schools are linked in a centrally monitored video security system.

Sargent’s district, 94 percent of whose students are African American and 76 percent qualify for free or reduced-price meals, aggressively has sought external funding from programs such as the BellSouth Foundation’s Power to Teach grant, which provided instructional technology training for 200 of the district’s teachers last summer, helping staff members develop authentic and engaging curricula that effectively use technology.

Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has appointed Sargent to the state board of education so that school systems statewide can benefit from her leadership. In addition, Mississippi State University has designated a Jayne Burrows Sargent Day, during which awards are given to women in positions of educational leadership. Sargent speaks locally as well as nationally to build leadership capacity among educators.

Ken Sherer, superintendent of Newark Unified School District in California

When Newark Unified School District set its goal to become a world-class education institution and to provide each student with the thinking skills required to be competitive in the employment market, district officials needed a solution that would match the district’s instructional strategy with each student’s learning style. Under Sherer’s leadership, Newark USD has achieved this goal by becoming one of the first K-12 districts in the country to implement a thin-client model in every classroom.

The key to the technology is the SunRay desktop internet appliance that delivers applications and services to students’ and teachers’ desktops via off-the-shelf web browsers. Content not only is available from the web, but also is delivered to every classroom via an East Coast portal, LearningStation. Having an effective thin client on every teacher’s desk also allows for enhanced communications between the teacher and each student’s home via eMail, Sherer says.

Another key technology feature of which Sherer has overseen implementation is the use of portals, or personalized desktops that organize customized information for the student, administrator, and teacher. Portals were created to grab pertinent information from the internet and bring it to the desktop. Some examples of resources now available to Newark’s students and staff include newspapers, weather reports, eMail, basic software applications, and calendars, in addition to scores of other services and applications. According to Sherer, “The ability to access personal sessions from any appliance in the school district—instantly, and from any computer in a school—enhances communication opportunities.”

Full-motion video and other rich media can be shared with teachers, students, and parents in Newark by the use of smart cards. The first stage in changing the learning paradigm within Newark USD has been the provision of a reliable, fast, easy-to-use, and efficient technology tool to teachers, through which learning can take place anywhere, any time. In the next stage, Newark USD and Sherer plan to provide each student with portable technology as well, allowing the teacher to become a facilitator of learning and making students responsible and accountable for their learning advancement.

Eric Smith, superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina

As head of the nation’s 23rd largest school system, with 140 schools, Smith has overseen many technology initiatives that have placed the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) as one of the nation’s premier urban systems.

CMS now has high bandwidth to all schools, and Smith has piloted a Laptops for Learning program and persuaded the advanced technology users in Charlotte’s business community to help pay for similar technology within the district. Smith also is one of the early adopters of an application service provider (ASP) model that saves money on device cost and software upgrades while standardizing the screen look and content.

In addition to upgrading the district’s phone system and telecommunications infrastructure, Smith is in the process of converting to a multimillion dollar integrated business systems software that handles administrative functions, including accounting, payroll, budget, and human resources. The district has developed and tested a telephone registration system for 103,000 students that will be implemented once it switches to a choice plan after the desegregation court issues are resolved.

CMS has overhauled its web site to better integrate the web into its plans for communication, professional development, and instructional support. The district has more than 140 webmasters who meet on a regular basis to discuss the site, acceptable use policies, and other issues. In fact, CMS used the internet to get input from more than 1,000 stakeholders during its student assignment planning process last year.

In an effort to bridge the digital divide, Smith and CMS launched Computer Access in Neighborhoods, a program that provides students and parents with access to computers and software at 15 sites located at nearby churches, neighborhood associations, and service agencies. The district solicited the computers, designed software that develops computer competency, and trained volunteers.

With a new district-wide intranet, teachers and employees can access online courses, professional development opportunities, district news, human resource policies, chat rooms, and more. The district also restructured and redeployed its cable television station as a 24-hour news and information channel. The channel features a program for students called Math Extra, a talk show on diversity issues called Diversity Matters, and CMS Magazine, which highlights district, student, and staff issues and achievements. Finally, the district’s “Crayons to Computers” program solicits computers and software from area businesses that meet CMS’s high standards for classroom technology, in a partnership with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.

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