2006 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award winners

The growing importance of technology in the nation’s schools has changed our expectations of the superintendency. As school leaders come to rely on computers and the internet to engage students’ interest, track their progress, individualize instruction, 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 essential characteristic for the 21st-century school executive.

In our sixth annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards, co-sponsored by TrueNorthLogic, eSchool News recognizes 10 of the nation’s top K-12 executives for their outstanding leadership and vision in the area of educational technology. Chosen by the editors of eSchool News with help from last year’s winners, these 10 exemplary leaders will be honored in a private ceremony held in conjunction with the American Association of School Administrators’ annual conference in San Diego Feb. 24.

Calvin Baker

Calvin Baker is the superintendent of the Vail School District in Vail, Ariz. His district has received national and international acclaim for its work with laptop computers, becoming one of the first school systems to substitute laptops for textbooks.

Arizona’s Vail School District is widely known, both nationally and internationally, for being the first to substitute laptops for textbooks. This bold initiative did not happen in isolation. Rather, it was the natural outgrowth of the district’s strong history of using technology to make education more relevant and efficient, according to Superintendent Calvin Baker.

Fundamentally, the district has used technology to develop and frequently monitor a strong standards-based instructional model. Technology also is used to design, deliver, and analyze measurements of student progress. To that end, it was only natural to use technology (laptops and the internet) to efficiently provide instructional materials and delivery directed at specific instructional standards, explained Baker.

Technology also has been used throughout the district to make this model transparent to parents, who, for more than five years, have been able to use the internet to monitor their children’s grades, test scores, and attendance as soon as they are entered. And technology is the primary vehicle for both individual and group communications by staff within the district. In Vail, everything from IEPs, to purchase orders, to maintenance work orders now are handled digitally. Aggressive use of technology is simply expected, said Baker.

The district’s governing board recently modeled this expectation by moving to paperless board packets and meetings. Teachers in the district are motivated to engage the use of technology through a program that enables them to earn a personal computer by demonstrating specific competencies related to technology use. Technology use has been further enhanced and enabled with the assignment of a professional-level technology staff person at every school.

“Our students will be living and working in a world where technology will be integral to most everything they do,” said Baker, who notes, “It should be equally integral in the schools preparing our students for that world.”

Mark DiRocco

Mark DiRocco is superintendent of the Lewisburg Area School District in central Pennsylvania. He has held several teaching and administrative positions during his 27-year career in public education and earned a Ph.D. in the Instructional Systems Program at Penn State University.

Under the leadership of Superintendent Mark DiRocco, the Lewisburg Area School District in Pennsylvania has boldly moved forward with the infusion of technology into every facet of the school system. With the goal of ensuring that technology is available to students to enhance the learning process and improve achievement in the classroom, administrators in this small district of 1,800 students have worked to place at least one stationary computer lab and mobile computer lab in each of its four main school buildings.

Calling computers “thinking tools for students,” DiRocco and his staff believe that computers should be used as often as possible to retrieve, store, sort, manipulate, and synthesize information to solve problems and increase knowledge. The emergence of the web has allowed for tremendous opportunities for students to stretch their learning well beyond the classroom, says DiRocco: “Students are motivated to use technology in this digital age, and our school district is committed to providing this venue for thinking and expression for the success of our students.”

To facilitate this thinking, teachers across the district are provided with a new computer every three years and receive between six and 12 hours of technology-related training each year. The district has initiated a “train-the-trainer” program where selected teachers learn how to use a particular software program, develop lesson plans that integrate that software into their curriculum, and then train other teachers. The district also has worked to put the appropriate infrastructure in place, purchasing its own fiber-optic network that allows high-speed servers to operate over its IP phone system, school eMail system, and district web site.

In addition to the typical school district uses of technology, DiRocco and his staff have implemented a computerized in-service evaluation system for staff members to provide feedback on in-service programs in the district. They also have developed and implemented a program of Quarterly Curriculum-Based Assessments to track individual student progress in the classroom, providing data to determine student remediation needs. All communications from the superintendent’s office are via eMail. Every student and staff member (including aides, secretaries, and custodians) has an eMail address and access to a computer, which DiRocco requires they check at least once every 24 hours.

Through the district web site, administrators communicate both immediate and long-term information that is of interest to students, parents, community, and visitors. DiRocco says the hope is that by embracing technology, the district will better serve its students, staff, and community.

Lewis Holloway

Lewis Holloway is superintendent of the 11,000-student Clarke County School District in Athens, Ga., a position he has held since 2000. In addition to serving as a superintendent in four states, he has been an elementary school principal, high school principal, and a math teacher.

Under the leadership of Superintendent Lewis Holloway, the Clarke County School District in Athens, Ga., has undergone a transformation in the way it leverages technology to accomplish its goals. Whether striving to support instruction in the classroom, facilitate decisions by district leaders, or drive efficiency in important business processes, faculty, staff, and students at every level of the school system rely on technology to help them reach their potential.

Currently, the district provides a laptop computer for every teacher, counselor, media specialist, administrator, and board member. Wireless laptop carts are stationed in every school to bring the technology into the classroom. Each school and administrative location is connected to the district data center and the internet via high-speed fiber-optic cabling. Interactive whiteboards and mounted projection systems are installed in at least 300 classrooms, with the goal of outfitting every classroom in the district within the next two years. An online high school gives students who have struggled in the traditional classroom setting a chance to earn their degree by alternative means. Students in traditional classrooms also can use the online model to recover credits for courses they’ve failed.

Elsewhere across the district, iPods and podcasting technologies are being used to reinforce language skills for English Language Learners, and a new Cisco IP telephone system provides a voice-mail box for teachers to communicate better with parents.

“We believe that technology supports and empowers human potential, and that belief drives how we use technology on a daily basis to support instruction in the classroom, decisions by our leaders, and to drive efficiency in our business processes,” said Holloway.

James Hoyle

James Hoyle has dedicated the past 35 years to education, working as a teacher, coach, director of secondary education, and superintendent of Plaquemines Parish Schools in Louisiana. He is grateful for the many opportunities he has been given to serve his community.

Facing unimaginable devastation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Superintendent James Hoyle and his staff at the Plaquemines Parish School System in Louisiana have turned their sights to rebuilding. Though the school system currently is equipped to handle about half of the students it enrolled before the disaster, Hoyle says technology remains an integral part of the district’s central mission and will play an immediate role as the community embarks on the slow and painful process of recovery.

Despite the tragedy that’s befallen his district, Hoyle says his vision has not changed. Technology, he says, is “the great equalizer” in providing a high-quality education for every child. This vision is reflected in district-wide efforts to establish multiple instructional computer labs equipped with the latest web-based educational software and internet access delivered by a wireless broadband network.

Prior to the disaster, all students hade their own personal accounts on the network with their own digital storage capabilities. Interactive whiteboards and LCD projectors connected to a networked classroom computer were in use in all third-, fourth-, and seventh- through 11th-grade classrooms. As they rebuild, Hoyle said, the goal is to install these boards in every classroom. Throughout the district, students also have access to digital cameras, global positioning systems, wireless laptops, and technologically advanced libraries. Before Katrina, the district had a student-to-computer ratio of 3 to 1.

To make sure teachers are prepared to integrate the technology effectively, every teacher in the district participated in the INTECH program, a 56-hour intensive professional development experience where they learned how to integrate technology into their classrooms. Instructional technology facilitators and IT staff provided just-in-time support. The result was an environment where teachers were not only excited about enhancing their teaching skills and the delivery of the curriculum using technology, but also using technology to communicate with parents, record grades, and keep daily attendance.

It’s going to take some time, but Hoyle believes the commitment still is there. With dedication and strong leadership, he says, Plaquemines is making a comeback. “Although Hurricane Katrina has destroyed two-thirds of our schools and millions of dollars worth of the school system’s technology, it has not taken our vision and our resolve,” said Hoyle, who added, “Technology will be an integral component in the rebuilding of our schools.”

Steve McAllister

Steve McAllister has taught and been an administrator in Maine, Alaska, Arizona, and Iowa. He is presently the superintendent of schools in Danville, Iowa, a position he has held since 1998. He has also been the district’s technology coordinator since 2000.

Steve McAllister has been superintendent of the Danville Community School District in Iowa since 1998. When McAllister first arrived in Danville, the district had limited technology available. A basic network was in place, consisting of a router and multiple hubs. The district had no servers, limited software, and very few computers. In addition, most administrative tasks were all done by hand.

Owing to budget cuts in 2000, McAllister took over the duties of technology coordinator in addition to his role of superintendent of the district, a position for which he received no extra compensation until 2005. Under his direction, McAllister saw that the technology infrastructure was completely revamped, and the district is now considered to have one of the most state-of-the-art technology departments in the area. Hubs were replaced with high-speed switches throughout the network, and fiber optics were installed to connect them. A new server room was constructed, with five new servers installed for eMail, web service, student information systems (SIS), library automation, and administration. A district web site was established in 2003, and since then 160 new client Apple Macintosh machines, all running on OS X 10.9.3 or higher, also have been added.

The district uses Chancery’s MacSchool SIS to make grading and reporting paperless. McAllister also spearheaded the installation of two new science labs, with all lab stations wired to support laptops. He has helped the district build a new career center and a new media and tech center; both feature computer labs with 12 stations. Plus, mini computer labs have been established for math and reading instruction for the elementary grades.

In addition to his duties as superintendent, McAllister carries out IT administrative duties, remotely assisting and troubleshooting throughout the network using Apple Remote Desktop. The staff and students of the Danville Community School District say McAllister has provided them with many opportunities through his dedication to technology and education that a district so small would not regularly enjoy.

John Morton

John Morton has been superintendent of the Newton, Kansas, Public Schools for six years. He was recently named Kansas 2006 Superintendent of the Year.

Leveling the technology playing field is the guiding vision of John Morton, superintendent of the Newton Public Schools in Kansas. He has scheduled early-stage conversations with the public and private sectors and operators of state education network KAN-ed to make a town of 20,000 a wireless community. Though as a mid-size district, Newton’s state funding lags behind 95 percent of Kansas’ other communities, its schools are bounding forward in integrating technology into learning and living.

Visionary leadership, community collaboration, a supportive board, and aggressive grant-writing have combined to provide the following advances in just the past two years: wireless laptops and peripherals for Newton elementary schools; Toshiba equipment and Virtual Prescriptive Learning for a high school geared toward at-risk learners; connectivity among schools, public libraries, and hospitals in the community and throughout the state; and online capability for 24/7 technology training for teachers, as well as 24/7 online access for parents to check middle and high school grades, attendance, and discipline reports.

Additionally, an entrepreneurial small business charter school initiative–a partnership between the Newton Public Schools and the Harvey County Economic Development Council–not only will bring advanced technology to current students and recent graduates, but also will provide a technologically-equipped conference room for use by the community. The conference room is being designed by the district’s CAD students and constructed by its high school building trades class.

Key to Morton’s vision for the district is his effort to provide focused and ongoing technology staff development. In Newton, Morton says, technology is a means to an end, a tool for significantly changing teaching and learning to provide maximum benefit to students and their families.

TJ Parks

TJ Parks has been employed by New Mexico’s Tatum Municipal Schools for 20 years, serving his last eight years as superintendent. He is president of the Lea County Distant Education Consortium, made up of five county public schools and two colleges, whose aim is to give students in the participating districts the opportunity to graduate from high school with as many as 33 college hours through the use of interactive television.

Imagine living in a rural community of 680 residents where the town is separated by nothing but miles and miles of mesquite bushes and highway. There is no retail presence, and the only way children can escape its suffocating boundaries is through technology. Despite the dual challenges of geography and poverty, Tatum Superintendent TJ Parks has created a technology mecca in his community.

Parks believes technology is “the equalizer” for students. Tatum Municipal Schools (TMS) is located in an isolated, rural southeastern New Mexico community entrenched in oil and ranching, where the majority of its 285 students come from low-income families. Students overcome isolation and poverty through access to technology, which rivals or exceeds the largest and wealthiest schools in New Mexico.

Rural districts typically operate on a shoestring, but Parks believes this shoestring must be tied to the foundation of learning through technology. It’s the only way, he says, to ensure a high-quality education for children who have no access to resources or the opportunities enjoyed by children in non-rural, economically privileged districts. Toward that end, Parks and the TMS Board of Education are aggressive in obtaining grants to sustain the district’s technology demands. TMS is a completely wireless campus with a fiber-optic backbone. Technology is not useful if it is not accessible, Parks says; the district assigns a wireless laptop to every student in seventh- through 12th-grade and ensures that every elementary student has computer access, with an overall district-wide student-to-computer ratio of 1 to 1.13. Teachers at TMS are given laptops as part of their teaching package.

Parks has two premises for technology: accessibility and efficiency. Each classroom is equipped with a ceiling-mounted projector, DVD-VCR, document camera, surround-sound amplifier, and a teacher laptop. Administrative software allows teachers to access grade books and lesson plans via the internet. Parents have access to their children’s grades and attendance through the same portal. In two years, Parks has automated the school lunch program, campus libraries, and classroom temperatures to provide a comfortable learning environment.

Working with area businesses, the district has made internet access available to all students and staff at half the regular cost, and upper-level college classes as well as professional development are accessible to staff and community members via interactive television made possible by way of the district’s participation in a distance-education consortium.

A true believer in the value of technology as an educational equalizer, Parks believes that no child’s education should be limited by locale or finances.

Dennis Peterson

Dennis Peterson has served as superintendent of schools in Minnetonka, Minn., since 2001. Before that, he served as superintendent of schools in Princeton City in Ohio (1996-2001), Rockwood School District in Missouri (1989-1995), and Laramie County School District in Wyoming (1986-1989). He holds a Ph.D. in Educational Administration from the University of Colorado and received a President’s Award for Vision and Leadership in Technology from the American Association of School Administrators in 2005.

Technology is essential in achieving Minnetonka’s vision of being a world-class school district, because it can improve the way people think, learn, and work, according to Superintendent Dennis Peterson. It brings immediacy to knowledge acquisition and puts a higher value on critical thinking and evaluation.

Technological fluency–once considered optional–is required of every student, teacher, and staff member in the district, while the district’s world-class use of technology contributes to enhanced student learning; expanded delivery of curriculum through improved teacher tools that are readily available for the teachable moment; effective collaboration among students, teachers, and parents; dynamic communications between the district and the community; and informed and timely decisions regarding student performance.

District voters passed a $30 million technology levy referendum in 2002. Teachers who receive new technologies in their classrooms agree to intensive staff development. Many teacher tools are interactive, and more than a third of district classrooms are equipped with an interactive whiteboard, computer, video system, and projection unit, in addition to a sound system that supports voice distribution. Scanners, flex cams, digital cameras, wireless laptop sets, and classroom web sites extend classrooms beyond traditional walls.

Interaction among schools, parents, and teachers is another priority. Teachers maintain weekly information for parents on the internet, which provides access to homework, classroom newsletters and announcements, attendance, lunch accounts, and–at the secondary level–grades. The Connect-Ed calling system is a favorite tool for principals and parents. The system lets building principals record messages for both emergency situations and school event reminders. TurnLeaf, an assessment and data-mining tool, is currently being deployed to all principals and eventually will provide teachers with easily accessible assessment data.

William Roberts

William E. Roberts is the superintendent of Nye County School District in Nevada. He is a former principal of three secondary schools and a career Army Lieutenant Colonel.

Approximately the size of Indiana, the 6,200-student Nye County School District is comprised of seven widely separated communities. Superintendent William “Rob” Roberts, a former West Point instructor and Vietnam-era helicopter pilot, has utilized technology to overcome barriers of time, space, and money to provide more efficient administration and better educational opportunities for the district’s students.

Compressed video systems have been installed in all district towns, giving residents access to the bi-monthly Board of Trustees’ meetings. This has negated the need for rotating meetings among the various towns and has resulted in huge cost savings in terms of fuel, lodging, and time, as well as allowing more citizens to attend board meetings. Interactive web sites have given residents immediate access to board policies and school information. The compressed video systems also have permitted hundreds of students from the district’s five high schools to access dual-credit classes offered by the Community College of Southern Nevada, giving students in very rural areas access to college classes.

Although Nevada ranks in the lowest 10 percent of all states in terms of state aid to education, the district has used donations, grants, and payments in lieu of taxes from the county commission to replace most obsolete computers and place at least one new computer lab in each school. By adopting a new student information system, the district has been able to provide parents with up-to-the-minute access to their students’ grades and attendance records. The computerized Standards Master system is used to administer quarterly assessments to students in math and reading, enabling teachers to track performance and begin necessary remediation. And computerized remedial programs help those children who have fallen behind in math and reading as part of the district’s technology and school improvement plans.

In short, technology has been used to streamline administration, provide information, and enhance educational opportunities for all students, staff and stakeholders of the Nye County schools.

Deborah Sommer

Deborah L. Sommer has been superintendent of the Canby School District in Oregon since 1999. She received her Ed.D. degree in Educational Administration, Curriculum, and Instruction from Portland State University and has held a variety of teaching and administrative positions over her 30 years in public education. She also currently serves as adjunct faculty member at Portland State University.

Using strategic technology planning and staff management, Superintendent Deborah Sommer helps keep Oregon’s Canby School District well ahead of the technology curve. Last year, Sommer distributed laptop computers to every teacher in the district, providing the tools and support staff necessary to make the transition smooth for all stakeholders.

The district’s web-based student management system allows teachers to publish student attendance, grades, and comments online, and it also manages all district special-education information and allows for seamless staff communication and instant access to instructional information. All buildings are wireless, and district staff members are able to access internet resources, curriculum, media, student/staff folders, and student information from anywhere in the district or at home. School board policy requires every teacher to maintain and update a staff home page and blog. All district teachers receive subject-specific technology coaching every Tuesday and Thursday.

Sommer ensures that technology resources are equitably distributed and insists on adequate professional development. All Canby schools have technology advisory councils to help support staff and students in technology planning.

Sommer works with administration, community members, and school staff to help everyone understand the role of technology in the district’s learning environment. Ten Canby teams of amateur engineers, ages 9-14, are participating in the FIRST Lego Robotics program this year, and more than 50 students are participating as Student Argonauts in this year’s JASON Project. Sommer’s out-of-the-box thinking has enabled her to make plans to eliminate long-term challenges and create more instructional opportunities in the district.

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