Letting teachers and principals choose which technology solutions to implement is one of the keys to success for the chief of an Oregon school district. Nancy Golden, superintendent of Oregon’s Springfield Public Schools, said her staff feels empowered and motivated because they decide which instructional tools they will use, rather than being told by upper management.

Using any new classroom technology effectively requires tremendous training, especially when executing a school-wide, one-to-one computing initiative. When teachers are eager to learn and to use the tools, Golden explained, the outcome is much better.

“If you felt like you had to do that, you wouldn’t be nearly as successful,” she said. Golden has received many accolades from her staff and colleagues, in part because Springfield is one of the first districts in Oregon to roll out a one-to-one computing initiative. She has been called a courageous visionary and a risk-taker.

“It just took courage, I guess, because in a tight environment, someone could say, ‘Why are you spending money on that?'” Golden said.

In her role as superintendent, Golden spends a day each week in the classroom. She saw kids were not as engaged in their lessons as they are with their handheld computer games, music players, and cell phones. “If the instruction was on the laptop, that would increase their engagement,” Golden explained.

Not all 26 schools in the district have embraced the laptop-for-every-child model–only the ones that wanted to. “We let buildings do what they wanted to do,” Golden said. Some schools have one-to-one laptop programs, and some have one-to-one programs with Palm handhelds.

The first school in Springfield to give a laptop to each student was a Title I middle school with learners at all levels of achievement, including below grade level. School personnel were involved in the program’s design and implementation. To make the project successful, the district provided lots of staff development and support, including allowing staff to visit other schools that already had implemented one-to-one computing programs. “That school has met AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress] the last two years, which is just phenomenal,” Golden said.

To help pay for projects such as one-to-one computing, the district created the Springfield Quality Education Model (SQEM) fund. With approximately $200,000 designated for school projects, the fund allows teachers, principals, or any staff members to apply for money to help execute projects.

If school leaders want a laptop for every student, or a few wireless laptop carts, they can apply for SQEM funding, in addition to requesting grants and raising private dollars to cover the balance of the cost.

“People need to feel empowered,” Golden said. Having the fund gives teachers the flexibility and freedom to use those technology solutions they feel most passionate about.

A ‘possibility thinker’

In general, Golden prefers consensus building instead of having the superintendent dictate what will happen.

In her first year as superintendent in 2002, Golden set out to identify what the community’s vision and goals were for the school district. She met with about 1,000 community leaders from local groups such as the chamber of commerce, Rotary Club, city council, and more.

At various meetings, district officials asked what skill sets were important for students to master. They even used electronic voting devices in the meetings to gather input on the community’s vision and goals, which later became the pathway for leading the district. Instructional technology and technology literacy topped the community’s list of important skill sets for students, Golden said.

Around the same time, she said, Apple Computer was rolling out its one-to-one initiative for education, so she invited company officials to make a presentation to the Springfield community.

“I’m a possibility thinker, but not everyone else is,” Golden said.

The local public utility, state leaders, city leaders, principals, and teachers attended the Apple presentation, which explained the possibility of what one-to-one computing could do for instruction.

People were excited, she said. Springfield’s public utility even volunteered to build a fiber-optic wide area network (WAN) in the community to extend the school’s network to the student’s homes.

Students had discovered they could access the school’s wireless internet connection after hours by lurking on school property. The WAN stopped kids from “hiding in the bushes” to get online.

Springfield, a city of 55,000 residents, has a 56-percent poverty rate. The city has two comprehensive high schools, one gateway high school, and one new academy of arts that opened this past fall in a downtown storefront.

Since Golden became Springfield’s superintendent, she has shifted the focus of technology to instruction. The district already had a strong technology infrastructure in place, with a WAN, a good-sized server, and a computer in each classroom.

Now, if kids are behind academically, they can use PLATO Learning software programs to catch up. Middle and high school students who need intervention are improving with Scholastic’s READ 180 program. Younger students use a program called Read Naturally, in which a computer reads a paragraph to the kids and then they read it back to the computer.

District staff can look at test scores using a software program from Mastery in Motion, which offers a simple way to visualize state test scores. The district also publishes a yearly report to the community, called “How Are The Children?” This helps the district maintain transparency and accountability, and it keeps the public informed about test-score results and various SQEM projects.

Golden also uses video to promote district programs to the community. For example, a recent literacy project invited students to a local college where celebrities read to them, reinforcing the idea that students need to read well to make it to college. She said the video of that project is very touching and doesn’t leave a dry eye.

Focus on instruction

Golden began her career in education teaching cognitively delayed students in a K-5 classroom in the same district she now serves as superintendent. As a special-education teacher, she used many technology-based solutions to help her students excel.

Later, she switched to a regular classroom in the same school, teaching primary grades. During that time, she earned her doctorate at the University of Oregon studying immediate feedback using primitive technology. Students would hit a number on a keypad to indicate their comprehension of a lesson.

“Ever since my dissertation, I’ve always looked at technology as something that can help kids at all of their various levels,” Golden said.

Golden earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Denver and her master’s in special education at University of Oregon in Eugene. She also completed the university’s administrative licensure program.

Golden left teaching to become a personnel assistant at Springfield Public Schools. She was responsible for hiring and evaluating teachers and principals. Two years later, she took a staff development position at Eugene School District in Oregon. She said Eugene’s superintendent encouraged her to become special-education director.

Five years later, Eugene’s deputy superintendent became superintendent of Albany School District in Oregon and recruited Golden to be deputy superintendent in charge of curriculum.

In Albany, in the late 1990s, the district had barely any technology and had never issued a school bond or a Request for Proposals (RFP) for technology before. Golden volunteered to write the RFP.

“I had no clue, but that’s how I am,” Golden said. The district passed a $14 million bond, $4 million of which was earmarked for technology. The district also hired a technology director to administer the funds.

Albany officials wanted someone who could lay a WAN and build infrastructure; Golden wanted someone who was technology inclined but phenomenal with instruction and who understood the business of education.

In 2002, Golden became superintendent of Springfield Public Schools, where she continues to ensure that technology use is instructionally focused. “In times of diminishing resources, the [most important] resource we have is the human resource,” she said. “Why not get the best out of it?” Link: Springfield, Ore., Public Schools http://www.sps.lane.edu/index.html