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 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 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.