The growing influence of technology in the nation’s schools is changing our expectations of the superintendency. As schools begin to rely on computers and the internet to engage students’ interest, track their progress, and aid in decision making, an understanding of how technology works and how it can be used to transform teaching and learning is an increasingly valued characteristic for the 21st-century school executive.
In our first-ever Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards, eSchool News recognizes 10 of the nation’s top K-12 executives for their leadership and vision in the area of educational technology. Chosen by the editors of eSchool News in consultation with our esteemed advisory board members, these 10 outstanding men and women lead by their example. Many were nominated by their peers; all share a forward-looking vision and a strong commitment to school reform through the judicious use of technology to improve teaching and learning.
Anthony Amato, superintendent of Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut
Amato came to Hartford with a vision to make the city one of the best-connected in the nation—and, in less than two short years, his vision quickly is being realized.
Under Amato’s leadership, the Hartford Public Schools have implemented a 47-site wide area network (WAN) that includes all public schools, libraries, and—eventually—all city agencies. This high-speed network, funded largely through the eRate, delivers internet protocol (IP) telephony, intranet resources, and internet services to more than 18,000 computers throughout Hartford. Amato also plans to offer free internet access to every Hartford family with school-age children, and each family will receive a digital companion from the district’s computer-refurbishing program. He currently is negotiating with textbook publishers and technology organizations to create the district’s own internet portal, with web-based curriculum customized to Hartford’s content goals and objectives in each subject area.
Amato has achieved technology integration across multiple grade levels and subject areas. For example, third-, fifth-, seventh-, ninth-, and 10th-graders practice reading, writing, and math skills using computers for an average of 20 minutes a day as part of an aggressive computer-aided instruction program. Forty-four preschool-level classrooms each have four Little Tykes computer kiosks that support a grant-funded research project with United Technologies and Eastern Connecticut State University to determine the best use of technology for 3- and 4-year-olds. At the secondary level, students and teachers use a diverse array of technology resources, including information technology academies, as tools for teaching and learning.
As the former superintendent of a New York City school district, Amato built one of the largest laptop programs in the nation, providing more than 5,000 mobile computers to some of the poorest families in the city. Research on this Microsoft “Anytime, Anywhere Learning” initiative found that students who used laptops had statistically significant higher academic outcomes, better attendance, and greater degrees of parent involvement.
Amato also has participated in several ed-tech forums and panels for the U.S. Department of Education, including a satellite town meeting in September to discuss how well-designed school buildings can be powerful tools to enhance K-12 education and the Forum on Technology in Education, which met in December 1999 to discuss new national priorities for using technology in education. This latter forum was instrumental in producing the new national ed-tech goals that former Secretary Richard Riley just released.
Barbara Grohe, superintendent of Kent School District in Washington
As superintendent of the fourth-largest school district in Washington, Grohe provides leadership for 26,400 students and more than 3,100 staff members. Before joining Kent, Grohe served as the superintendent of districts in Wisconsin and Iowa. In each district she has overseen, technology has been a core component in increasing student achievement.
In Iowa City, Grohe spearheaded a community and business initiative that financed the district’s technology infrastructure. In her decade as its superintendent, Iowa City became a leader in the state in technology integration for instruction.
Upon joining Kent in 1999, Grohe clearly communicated her vision for integrating technology throughout the curriculum. It was Grohe’s leadership and ability to communicate a vision that proved instrumental in passing an $18 million technology levy, which district leaders hope will take this already award-winning district to an even higher level of technology literacy for all students.
Under Grohe’s leadership, much has been put into place to move Kent School District toward increased student achievement and accountability. The Kent School District web page, a Smithsonian award-winner, shows her dedication to excellence in the delivery of technology to students. Her impact on education is recognized across the country, as she was selected as the 1998 National Superintendent of the Year. She also was honored with a “Promising Technology Model Recognition Award” in 2000 by the American Association of School Administrator’s now-defunct TED-TAC (Technology Efficient District-Technical Assistance Center) program for her district’s IntraWeb project.
Grohe earned a bachelor’s degree from Clarion State College, a master’s degree from Ohio University, and a doctorate in urban education from the University of Milwaukee. She contributes a monthly technology column to Converge magazine in collaboration with Eliot Levinson, chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based ed-tech consulting firm BLE Group.
Paul Hagerty, superintendent of Seminole County Public Schools in Florida
From establishing the first Apple Lab in Georgia’s first elementary math-science magnet school in the late 1970s to embracing a relational database approach to administrative and instructional management in the mid-1980s in Springfield, Mo., Hagerty has put his school systems on the leading edge of technology use.
Since Hagerty became superintendent of schools in Seminole County, every classroom and office has been equipped with voice mail and a telephone, and every employee has an eMail account. The district, which enrolls about 60,000 students, features a local area network (LAN) in every school, with a minimum of four drops in every classroom providing full internet access, and a high-speed WAN that uses fiber optics and T-1 lines. Five schools offer magnet technology programs featuring specific technology curricula and a two-to-one student-to-computer ratio, and the district is developing a high school devoted to a technology-based curriculum as well.
The district’s schools use an instructional management system that ensures their curriculum, instruction, and assessment are correlated to state and national standards. Seminole County also employs a student information system that has query capabilities, state reporting, and a relational database for flexibility of data access. Each school has a technology facilitator who is responsible for integrating the use of technology into the classroom. Technology technicians are available to perform equipment repair and network support in the schools and administrative offices. The district also has established its own computer store to ensure the best prices and adherence to a single equipment standard.
Hagerty, who has been an educator for 40 years and superintendent for 25, also worked as a systems engineer for IBM. He received his bachelor and master’s degrees in mathematics from Marquette University and his Ph.D. from Florida State University.
Spence Korte, superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools in Wisconsin
Korte is a dynamic and innovative educator with 25 years of experience in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). He served as principal of the district’s Hi-Mount Community School for 14 years and is credited with being the driving force that turned Hi-Mount into a technology-rich school that is a model for local decision making, putting power into the hands of teachers and parents.
Korte’s accomplishments as principal at Hi-Mount are well-documented. In his time there, he developed the school into one of the most fully computerized elementary instructional programs in the nation. Hi-Mount was designated an Ameritech SuperSchool in 1994, with a student-to-computer ratio of two-to-one. The school has been featured in numerous articles and publications for its innovative reforms, including an April 1995 cover story on education in Business Week magazine.
Appointed superintendent of the district in 1999, Korte has been able to carry his vision to new heights. During the 1999-2000 school year, MPS created a National Technology Advisory Board, composed of nationally recognized academic and business leaders—including Cisco Systems Chairman John Morgridge—who meet twice a year to discuss the state of technology reforms in the district and recommend ways that MPS (and other urban school districts) can further improve their educational offerings. Morgridge told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that MPS has the kind of leadership needed to push technology issues, has done well in setting standards and specific expectations, and is investing in the infrastructure that is needed to implement technology efforts on a broad scale.
Since 1998, MPS has received nearly $3 million in federal Technology Literacy Challenge Fund money, enabling the district to train hundreds of middle school teachers, and has participated in the high-profile Benton Foundation study. MPS was honored to be one of two urban school districts to be selected as sites for a major study by the Benton Foundation to determine the effectiveness of technology in improving education in the classroom.
Larry Leverett, superintendent of Plainfield Public Schools in New Jersey
Leverett, who has earned a reputation as a creative leader who encourages collaboration and acceptance of responsibility among stakeholders, is leading this 7,000-student school district in a multiyear reform program.
Under Leverett’s leadership, the Plainfield community approved a $33.9 million referendum in 1996 that provided almost $4 million for district-wide technology upgrades. His high-minority district—83 percent of students are African American and 16 percent are Hispanic—also leveraged eRate discounts, a Technology Literacy Challenge Fund grant, and Access 2000 funds. The district is working with Lucent Technologies to build LANs in every building and a WAN that will connect all school buildings and—eventually—community facilities, such as the public library, municipal government, and health and social service agencies.
Under the reform plan, every classroom will have a minimum of four computers. Currently, every classroom has high-speed, filtered internet access and every staff member has an eMail account. Two middle schools have facilities to teach students technology-related skills such as robotics, desktop publishing, and weather satellite tracking. One middle school also has a television studio used to teach television production. Students at Plainfield High School can take distance-learning classes and the Cisco Networking Academy two-year program.
The district also established a 15-computer training lab for staff development. Twice a year, the district publishes a catalog that details the professional development opportunities at the lab and at the Union County Educational Technology Training Center. The district also covers the cost of tuition for teachers who take graduate courses on using instructional technology from the Fairleigh Dickinson Graduate School of Education.
Each building in the district has an on-site technology coach, and the district is moving toward having full-time technology teachers. The district also uses curriculum software from Computer Curriculum Corp. that frees teachers from burdensome paperwork, collects data on how well students are learning, and streamlines record-keeping. The software also helps students in reading, math, geography, and social studies.
Leverett has spoken on educational technology issues for the U.S. Department of Education and at several national conferences. His views on how technology can make a difference in education have been published in School Administrator and in Edutopia, a publication of the George Lucas Foundation.
James McCann, superintendent of Lamphere School District in Michigan
McCann’s 33-year career in education includes teaching and administrative experience at the elementary, middle, and high school levels of instruction. In 1980, he attended a summer institute sponsored jointly by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This institute, coupled with the realization of the importance of teaching to multiple learning styles, convinced him that his vision of learning through technology was on the right track, and he proceeded to look for ways to implement this dramatic change into the schools.
When McCann assumed the superintendency of Lamphere schools in 1986, he saw an urgent need for technology training for teachers and staff in the district. He immediately began organizing district teams to train staff in the areas of computer networking, programming, and software use. As a result, Lamphere offers specialized instructional classes for staff while maintaining an ongoing education program.
Trained custodians installed miles of cable and wiring to the classrooms, which provided a sophisticated network and, at the same time, saved the district a considerable amount of money. The savings made it possible to offer teachers an initial two-week, district-sponsored training program. In return for this professional development opportunity, each participant was given a computer and printer for their personal use. This program was a tremendous success, with 98 percent of the staff participating. Students benefited from the staff’s enthusiasm and computers became an integral part of classroom instruction.
McCann’s philosophy—”We don’t take our students to pencil labs when we want them to write, so why treat computers any differently?”—is the main reason computers were placed in classrooms rather than clustered in media centers. After the computers were in place, each building was linked with a distributed network. This sophisticated network, completed without the work of expensive consultants, planners, and engineers, had the district online before the books on networking were written. The district’s installation of the internet put Lamphere on the education technology map. Since that time, Lamphere has received many awards, honors, and recognition as an education and technology leader.
In 1996, through McCann’s leadership, Lamphere Schools created the classroom of the 21st century when it became the JASON Project’s Primary Interactive Network (PIN) site for the state of Michigan, one of only 30 sites in the world. Lamphere was chosen as a PIN site because it had the technology infrastructure necessary to implement and deliver this state-of-the-art program to students. The JASON Project, founded by Dr. Robert Ballard, discoverer of the R.M.S. Titanic, is an innovative multidisciplinary curriculum that creates just-in-time learning for students, breaking down the walls of the classroom. As the host of the JASON Project for the last four years, Lamphere Schools has helped thousands of Michigan students to experience exciting scientific adventures, live, as they happened.
McCann is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has served as district superintendent in Madison Heights, Mich., for the past 15 years.
Robert Reeves, superintendent of Poway Unified School District in California
Reeves, the superintendent at Poway USD for 26 years, has championed the equity of resources by continually finding ways for all students to be afforded the same educational opportunities. Under his leadership, a commitment to the mission of “all students learning, whatever it takes” has permeated this suburban school district of 32,000 students.
Reeves initially shared his vision for instructional technology with the school board, staff members, and community and business leaders in the early 1980s. The involvement and support of the board and the extended school community helped make Poway, the 25th largest school district in California, a leader in implementing technology to assist students in reaching their fullest potential, not only within the district, but also throughout the county.
During his time as superintendent, Reeves has established in-district “technology lottery” grants for innovative projects. Under his watch, the Poway staff has participated in a professional development system connecting curriculum, instruction, and assessment with state and local standards. Instruction is interdisciplinary, and technology skills are taught and learned in the context of projects. Integrated, authentic assessments of performance in instructional strategies are used to measure teachers’ skill levels, and teachers also learn to use performance data to personalize learning for all students.
Under Reeves’ leadership, the district has brought internet connections to every classroom and used technology “mentor teachers” to help train other staff members. Poway has created virtual classes, which have extended to include other school districts’ students, as well as animation and video classes at the high-school level. Reeves also has worked with the city of Poway and the San Diego County Office of Education to create a television link that will allow high-quality video teleconferencing capabilities, and he has increased home-school communication with teacher web sites and parent internet access.
Reeves’ commitment to a dynamic learning environment for students extends beyond Poway USD. He is the cofounder and current cochair of the San Diego County Superintendent’s Technology Advisory Committee, formed to support technology development for all 43 public school districts in San Diego County. Reeves has spoken about the use of technology in education at the California School Board Association’s annual conference, the National School Boards Association’s Technology + Learning Conference, and the Education Technology Business Conference Board in Washington, D.C.
Jayne Sargent, superintendent of Jackson Public School District in Mississippi
Sargent’s vision for high-quality schools has translated into a revamped professional development program, targeted intervention for poor-performing students and schools, and a forward-looking technology plan for her district. Her belief that data should drive the district’s plans for improvement has resulted in a major investment in technology to improve student achievement and the delivery of instruction.
The district’s technology network, the Learning Connection, gives administrators, teachers, students, and parents instantaneous data and the ability to stay connected by sending voice, video, and data over a single communications pipeline. In April, Sargent and her district were recognized in Washington, D.C., by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History for this innovative technology network.
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.