As an educator, Jill Martin knows how important technology is for students and teachers. But as the 2007 National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)/MetLife National Principal of the Year, Martin also knows first-hand how much the use of technology has helped her entire school improve.

As principal of Thomas B. Doherty High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., Martin has taken an underperforming school and made it into one of the best in the state, if not the country. Since she became principal in 1999, average student attendance has increased from 87 percent to more than 91 percent. The dropout rate at Doherty has decreased from 3.2 percent in 1999 to less than one percent during the 2004-2005 school year.

But it is her goal to personalize the learning environment that has made Martin the nation’s top secondary-school principal in 2007. She believes technology has gone a long way toward making that personalization possible.

“Technology is a wonderful tool that can enhance student motivation and learning,” says Martin, who was honored by the NASSP in a ceremony Oct. 13. “Beyond the obvious benefits of word processing, using the internet purposefully for research enables students to utilize information from many different sources.”

Martin believes the only way to ensure a learning return on her school’s investment in technology is to make information literacy a key part of the curriculum. She also feels strongly about the importance of staff development: “Teachers, too, can be far more creative if given the necessary training to use PowerPoint, probeware, and other technology to support instruction.”

As part of her vision for a strong school, Martin believes a teacher’s ability to access information about his or her students is a major benefit in molding how courses are taught, further personalizing the classroom experience for students. “Our teachers access data about their students’ previous and current levels of achievement and use this information to collaboratively improve instruction and assessment,” she said.

Students’ use of the internet at school occurs in eight different computer labs, some curriculum-specific, others open, all of which are busy throughout the day and after school hours. This extended and constant use of technology, Martin believes, is changing the landscape of teaching and learning.

“The world and all of its information is now available to students,” she says. “The role of the teacher and media staff has become one of helping kids use … technology to make their work more efficient and effective.”

Martin attributes much of the student body’s increased success to the ability of parents and students to access information such as grades and attendance in real time via computers or telephone. The program, called “Parent Connection,” along with its student-oriented version “Student Connection,” allows parents and students to access information about their participation in the classroom. “It has been very effective in supporting the home-school partnership and helping students be more responsible as well as accountable for missing assignments, knowing what their grade is, or questioning attendance,” she said. “Communication with parents and students is a key factor in high-achieving schools.”

Doherty High School aims to have students use technology in nearly every setting. Martin says most students these days are already quite adept at using technology by the time they get to high school. But for those who are not, the school requires a computer-applications course to enable these students to successfully complete any technology-based coursework.

The use of technology at Doherty High School is not limited to computers in labs and online attendance and grade programs. Martin believes the use of technologies such as interactive whiteboards with remote-control clickers for students to weigh in on questions, as well as programs such as web site design, a Cisco Networking Academy, Project Lead the Way, computer-aided design, and a nationally recognized, technology-based automotive program, have all contributed to making Doherty one of the best schools in the country. In addition, she said, technology is infused throughout the curriculum to enhance teaching and learning.

“This affects every course, from physical education to foreign languages,” she said. In short, “it’s really changed how we do business.”

Links:

NASSP/MetLife National Principal of the Year
http://www.principals.org/s_nassp/sec.asp?CID=68&DID=68

Thomas B. Doherty High School
http://www.cssd11.k12.co.us/doherty/