Forget high-paid consultants—students will be teaching Nebraska’s principals and superintendents about computers.

As part of a technology training program beginning this summer, top school officials across the state will be paired with students so they can learn from one another.

Students will learn new skills and the administrators will see firsthand how students react to technology, said Nebraska Education Commissioner Doug Christensen June 28.

It’s important for administrators to use the latest technology so they can lead by example, said Jerry Sellentin, director of the Nebraska Council of School Administrators.

“I still use a pocket calendar,” he said. “It’s been very effective for me. I ought to have a Palm Pilot in my hand as well as a laptop.”

Help is on the way.

Over the next three years, about 900 Nebraska principals and superintendents—most of the state’s top school administrators—will receive a laptop and handheld computer, such as a Palm Pilot, to help them better understand technology and learn to use it.

The equipment is being paid for thanks to a $1.3 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is setting up similar programs in all states.

Gates is chairman and one of the founders of computer software giant Microsoft Corp., which achieved a victory of sorts when a federal appeals court on June 28 unanimously overturned an order to split the company in two. The court left intact a finding that Microsoft illegally used its monopoly in the Windows operating system, however.

As principals and administrators become more adept and comfortable with the technology, it is hoped they will push harder for infusing computers in their schools’ curriculum, not just creating a stagnant computer lab, Christensen said.

Part of that learning will occur with the student mentoring program, Christensen said.

“The student’s probably going to help them turn on the computer or Palm Pilot,” he joked. “Technology is as natural to a child as picking up a pencil is to us.”

Woody Ziegler, a retired elementary school principal from York, Neb., said the time has come to energize school administrators.

“Technology leaders need to start with principals and superintendents,” he said.

Christensen guessed that about 30 percent of Nebraska schools effectively use technology into the classroom.

“If an administrator is not comfortable with technology, it is going to be very hard for [him or her] to lead” the staff, Christensen said.

Besides the Nebraska program, other recent technology leadership grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation include the following:

  • $1.7 million to Wisconsin, which will be used along with matching grants from various private companies to fund a three-year, $3.3 million Wisconsin School Leadership Academy.

    Gov. Scott McCallum said about 82 percent of the state’s administrators, or 1,800 of them, will be able to participate in the program. Each participant will get a laptop computer and training on how to use the technology. The grant money also will be used to hire nationally recognized speakers for the seminars.

  • $1.7 million to South Carolina to equip every superintendent and principal in the state with a new laptop computer. The computers will assist school officials with their technology training, state Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum said June 19.

    Principals and superintendents will meet twice a year for technology training to learn how to use the technology to improve education, Tenenbaum said. The sessions also will help school executives make data-driven decisions.

  • $3.6 million to Virginia for a program based at the College of William and Mary. The Virginia Initiative for Technology and Administrative Leadership, or VITAL, program will be administered by the Virginia Educational Technology Alliance at William and Mary’s School of Education. The grant money will be matched by Virginia legislative funds and the grant partners, according to a news release.

  • $7.5 million to New York. State Education Commissioner Richard Mills said the training would be handled through the 15 new “leadership academies” the state is setting up for continuing professional development of school professionals.

    More than 5,000 New York superintendents, principals, and other administrators will get training with the help of the Gates’ grant, Mills said.

These awards bring the number of states receiving grants from the Gates Foundation to 24 as of the end of June. The foundation has committed a total of $100 million to train school administrators in the use of educational technology. Its goal is to reach administrators in all 50 states by 2003, officials said.


Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Nebraska Council of School Administrators

Virginia Initiative for Technology and Administrative Leadership