HELP suspends Gulf Coast work

After two years of working to help Gulf Coast schools recover from Hurricane Katrina and rebuild their facilities as 21st-century learning centers, the HELP (Hurricane Education Leadership Program) Team is now shifting gears: The group is putting its efforts on hold and documenting its actions in hopes of serving as a model for other disaster recovery organizations to follow.

The Intel-led team, which consists of educational technology service providers and nonprofit associations, will remain intact but inactive. Terry Smithson, education strategist for Intel Corp. and the team’s leader, said he is confident the team can mobilize and go back to active status very quickly if schools in any part of the country experience another widespread disaster or emergency requiring the team’s assistance.

Although the team’s accomplishments in the Gulf Coast are remarkable, Smithson said the work it did is only the tip of the iceberg.

“We, by far, have not accomplished everything that we wanted to, because there’s still years of work there,” he said.

The decision to document the team’s actions in the Gulf Coast and to render the team inactive for the time being was made during a conference call with team members Oct. 29.

“We realized there were some really good things that came out of this team,” Smithson said. But team members agreed it was time for a new direction.

Over the next few months, HELP Team members will be working to document the team’s accomplishments in Gulf Coast schools, how the team went about its actions, and what process the team would follow should it need to reassemble in the event of a disaster or for any other reason.

The team’s web site will remain active for the next six months or so, Smithson said, but it will redirect visitors to other sites, including the SAFE (School Actions for Emergencies) Center, a joint project of eSchool News and the International Society for Technology in Education. Information from the HELP Team web site–including documentation of its work, and the emergency-response lessons it has learned–will be transferred to these other sites. At some point, Smithson said, the HELP Team’s web site would be shut down permanently.

“I’m very proud of what this team has done. We should all be really proud…” Smithson said. “If there’s any downside, it’s been continued political battles with politicians in Louisiana [over] allowing education to be helped.”

Over the past two years, the HELP Team has been instrumental in guiding Gulf Coast schools not only to recovery, but to success as 21st-century learning facilities.

In a previous interview with eSchool News, Smithson said the team formed almost immediately after Hurricane Katrina struck, because he and others in the field noticed that while large companies were stepping up with donations for the affected schools, many funds or products were not reaching their intended destinations.

The team’s members saw a chance to organize the donations and the distribution of funding and equipment, but they also saw another opportunity–the chance to transform Gulf Coast schools, some of the least technologically advanced schools in the country, into 21st-century learning models that would serve as examples to districts across the nation.

The team’s first meeting was in Atlanta in December 2005, and team members traveled to the Gulf Coast in January 2006 to see first-hand the devastation and to meet with educators to find out what schools there needed most.

That summer, led by the Pearson Foundation, a HELP Team partner, the team was able to offer Summer Digital Arts Camps for the region’s middle school students, who–because of the hurricane’s destruction–had no movie theaters, malls, or playgrounds. During these camps, students learned how to use video programs and created mini-movies about their experiences, which Smithson said were both educational and therapeutic for the students.

With the support of its partners, the HELP Team assembled mobile classrooms and offered them to affected Gulf Coast schools and displaced students at a discounted rate. These mobile units included a cart with 30 laptop or tablet computers, a wireless server, wireless printer, and an LCD projector. Schools in Baton Rouge; Belle Chasse, La., and New Orleans have benefited from these mobile carts.

While HELP Team members have donated millions of dollars in funding and equipment, the team’s efforts did not stop with money. A large part of the HELP Team’s objective was, and continues to be, providing guidance to schools in the Gulf Coast and across the country–guidance on how to build and maintain schools that will give students a global perspective and 21st-century skills.

The group also formed an Educator Response Team, composed of four Gulf Coast educators who volunteered to provide first-hand guidance and leadership if another similar disaster strikes anywhere in the country. These educators would provide peer-to-peer guidance for schools and districts affected by another disaster to make sure their students stay on track with their education.

“Our huge concern was that if we did not get involved, … a lot of the Gulf region would rebuild their schools in the same way they had before, which is really an 18th- or 19th-century learning environment,” Smithson has said of the effort.

Link:

HELP Team

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Learning beyond the bell

“Almost every parent is familiar with the’nothing’ response to the question: ‘What did you learn in schooltoday?’ Now a parent can say, ‘I saw on your classroom web site thatyou are learning about shapes and the project you made. It lookedgreat! Tell me more about it!’ A web site changes the conversation athome.” –Maurice Draggon, first-grade teacher, Sadler Elementary School

Should school districts allow their teachers to have their own blogsand podcasts hosted on the district’s web site? It’s a question thatmany school systems, both large and small, have grappled with.

On the one hand, these digital-age communications tools can extendstudent learning beyond the school bell, while keeping parents engagedin their child’s education as never before. On the other hand, manyschool district leaders naturally are concerned that these tools couldopen their districts to potential legal liabilities if not carefullymonitored.

Florida’s Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) has come up with asolution that satisfies both sides of the debate–empowering teachersto create their own web pages, blogs, and podcasts, while guardingagainst the misuse of such tools.

All OCPS teachers are encouraged to create their own web page, but onlyafter going through special training, signing an Acceptable Use Policy(AUP), and passing an end-of-training exam with a 100-percent score,says George Perreault, director of educational technology for thedistrict. The program has been so well received that about a third ofthe district’s 12,000 teachers already have taken the training.

Before the program started, teachers who wanted to create their own websites often had to ask their school’s instructional technologyspecialist for help. But “it was too hard to have to go through thisperson every time they wanted to update their site,” says Perreault. “Iwanted teachers to be able to be autonomous–but there had to besafeguards in place.”

During the training, which lasts a full day, teachers learn how tobuild their own web pages, how to create links, and how to post itemsusing HTML coding. Teachers also learn what is, and is not, appropriateto post on their personal or class web site.

For example, teacher web sites may not contain advertisements, andteachers need parents’ consent before they post students’ photos or usetheir last names. Teachers also can’t use their web sites for personalgain and cannot use them as a soapbox.

“This is not the forum for personal views or causes,” Perreault explains.

Ed-tech service provider Tech4Learning created the training program forOCPS according to the district’s specifications, and the company nowoffers this training commercially to other districts. OCPS firstoffered the training to teachers through a face-to-face format, but itproved to be so popular that the district eventually created an onlineversion hosted by Angel Learning.

Teachers who pass the end-of-training exam and “sign” an electronic website agreement form are given a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) accountfor hosting their personal web site. Once they pass the online exam,the system “automatically generates an eMail message to a staff memberto create an FTP directory for them,” Perreault says.

Before offering the training, district officials vetted their teacherAUP and web site agreement form through the OCPS legal team.

“I’ve sort of taken the approach that teachers are professionals, andI’m going to set the expectations–but it’s also very clear when wetalk to them that I alone am the gauge for what’s appropriate and whatis not,” Perreault says. If he finds a posting that is inappropriate,he sends an eMail to the teacher explaining that this is outside theguidelines of acceptable practices–but “I haven’t had to turn anybodyoff,” he adds.

OCPS uses mostly Hewlett-Packard servers throughout the district, butit hosts the teacher web pages and manages teachers’ FTP accounts on anApple XServe server.

The district also offers a way for teachers to create their own blogsand podcasts on their web sites. Parents and students can sign up forReally Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds to have new blog posts deliveredto their eMail in-boxes automatically, and they can click on an iTunesbutton to have new podcasts delivered automatically to their iTunesaccount.

“The nice thing is, the Apple server syndicates these on the fly,” Perreault says.

Teachers are using their web sites, blogs, and podcasts to connect withstudents and their parents in a variety of ways. One chemistry teacher,for instance, creates podcasts to help students with their dailyhomework. Parents and students can listen to the podcast together asthey work through each assignment. Other teachers use them to help kidsreview for tests, or to spark students’ imagination outside of class.

Maurice Draggon, a first-grade teacher at Sadler Elementary School, hastaken advantage of the district’s training to create a site on which heposts his own videos to help students learn phonics.

“My classroom is composed entirely of students who speak English as asecond language,” Draggon explains. “Letters do not make the same soundin every language, and often parents worry they will teach their childthe wrong letter sound when they are reading with them at home. Theycan visit my web site, select the letter they are unsure of, and hearthe sound right away. This empowers parents to practice reading withtheir children without worrying about teaching them the wrong sound.Parents are therefore pulled into the learning experience in ameaningful way, without language being a barrier.”

Draggon also posts students’ writing samples and other projects for parents to see.

“Almost every parent is familiar with the ‘nothing’ response to thequestion: ‘What did you learn in school today?'” he says. “Now a parentcan say, ‘I saw on your classroom web site that you are learning aboutshapes and the project you made. It looked great! Tell me more aboutit!’

“A web site changes the conversation at home and strengthens the connection between the school and the home,” he concludes.

Link:

Maurice Draggon’s web site

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Driven to succeed

“In a district this size,we have more than a thousand buses stopping at 24,000 stops anddelivering 140,000 students to 200-plus locations. That’s why GPS[technology] is important to me. I can monitor a thousand buses over96,000 miles each day.” –Nicholas Gledich, Chief Operating Officer, Orange County Public Schools

If you’ve ever waited for the bus with your child in a torrentialdownpour, or in bitter cold weather, then you’ll appreciate aninnovation soon to be offered to parents of Orange County, Fla.,students: In the coming months, they’ll be able to subscribe to anoptional service that will alert them automatically by cell phone orpager when the bus is a certain distance from their child’s bus stop.Hence, no more waiting any longer than they need to.

Thisadd-on service will be available to parents down the road, but it’smade possible by a technological advancement that already exists on thecounty’s more than 1,000 school buses: Orange County Public Schools(OCPS) is one of the few large school systems in the country to haveGlobal Positioning System (GPS) devices installed on each and everybus.

“We’re one of the only large school districts that havefully implemented an Automatic Vehicle Location system,” Arby Creach,director of transportation systems for OCPS, says proudly. “I hadsomeone from another district say to me recently: ‘Oh my gosh, itworks–do you know how many presentations I’ve been to where they say,we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do that–and you’re actually doingit!'”

The devices can pinpoint the exact location of each buson a map every 10 seconds. This information is not only invaluable incase of an emergency; it also has enabled OCPS to save about 10 percenton fuel costs, Creach says. That’s no small amount, given that thedistrict spent nearly $3 million on fuel last year alone.

It’sresults like these that prompted School Bus Fleet magazine to recognizeOCPS as one of the top 10 school bus fleets in the country recently.

‘Instant accountability’

OCPS purchased its GPS units and software from Boston-based companyEveryday Wireless. The units themselves cost about $800 apiece, andthey’ve been “terrifically reliable,” says Creach, an ex-militaryofficial who has drawn from his knowledge of high-tech weapons systemsto help guide the district’s transportation services. “Once thehardware was installed, it cost us nothing to operate.”

Thehardware consists of a small box installed on the bus and a shortantenna attached to the outside, typically on the hood. It receives GPSinformation from a satellite and retransmits this information to fivecounty locations via UHF radio. The data then are sent over theinternet to a district server and are overlaid onto the district’sexisting bus-routing software–for OCPS, Trapeze Software’s MapNetprogram.

The system “has brought instant accountability to our district,” Creach says.

For starters, there is the solution’s safety factor. If a vehiclebreaks down, or there is a bus-related emergency–a missing child, aserious injury, or even a hijacking–district officials instantly canlocate the bus in question.

“If a parent calls up and says,’Where’s little Suzie,’ I can probably tell you in seconds, instead of[having to say], ‘I’ll call you back in a few hours,'” Creach explains.

The system also reduces the likelihood of speeding, district officialsclaim, because it’s easy enough to monitor how fast drivers are going.In addition, drivers can send a silent emergency alert by pressing a”panic button” on the system, without having to get on the radio.

Greater efficiency

Along with improving safety, the GPS devices have helped district officials make their bus routes more efficient.

Because the system maintains a complete history of every bus trip, “youcan verify the routes,” Creach says. To plan their bus routes, heexplains, district officials use maps from county appraisers andcartographers, which are imported into the Trapeze routing software.But sometimes these maps are outdated or incomplete.

“Thisyear, we audited and [redrew] many routes, using the GPS information,”Creach says. “Here’s what it will tell you: That road didn’t go through[as expected], or, there’s a road here that the map didn’t show.” Headds: “The GPS technology brings out details that aren’t correct onthese maps.”

Shaving just a few miles or minutes off of busroutes here and there can have a huge cumulative impact, Creach says,noting that it costs between $45 and $50 to operate each bus per hour.By tweaking the routes, he says, “we’re able to put more money backinto the classroom.”

Nicholas Gledich, chief operating officer for the district, explains why he appreciates having the AVL system in place.

“In a district this size,” he says, “we have more than a thousand busesstopping at 24,000 stops and delivering 140,000 students to 200-pluslocations. That’s why GPS [technology] is important to me. I canmonitor a thousand buses over 96,000 miles each day.”

Future plans

Looking toward the future, OCPS officials say they’re exploring thepossibility of adding student ID cards to help track where, and when,kids get on and off the bus. Such a system would help ensure thatstudents are riding the correct bus and would add another layer ofsecurity, Creach says.

The cards would have an embeddedradio-frequency identification (RFID) chip, which would be read by ascanner on each bus as students enter or exit the vehicle. The cardslikely would be activated biometrically, meaning the correct studentwould have to be holding the card for it to work, so a student couldn’tsteal his friend’s card and use it.

Creach is working with thedistrict’s food service, library, and information technologydepartments, along with building principals, to design a system thatcould be used for many different purposes: checking out library books,paying for lunches, and so on. These multifunctional cards also wouldcontain a bar code and magnetic stripe, he says, so they would workwith each school’s existing technology systems.

“For us, itwould be one more feather in our cap for security–and that certainlymakes everybody feel better,” Creach concludes.

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Cultural shift

It’s one-thirty on a Friday afternoon, and Paul (“Van”) Mitchell, principal of Colonial High School in Orlando, Fla., enters his office.

He’s slightly out of breath, having just come back from a school pep rally–though it could just as easily have been the 20 classroom walkthroughs (CWTs) he had done earlier that day that had winded him.

But that’s a typical number for Mitchell, who brings up his computer from sleep mode. “We have 186 teachers, and I try to do 25 walkthroughs a day,” he says.

Mitchell is referring to a school leadership strategy that has him spending three to five minutes in each classroom, observing the behavior of teachers and students. He’s looking for specific indicators that research suggests can produce higher achievement. He records his observations on a Palm handheld computer, then transfers the data to his desktop computer later on for analysis.

Mitchell points to one of two flat-screen monitors on his desk–it displays the software program he uses to manage the data collected from his CWTs–and rattles off phrases such as “high-yield strategies” and “learner engagement.” They’re two of the leading indicators measured during the walkthroughs. But for Mitchell and his school leadership team, these are not just abstract terms; they’re real concepts that are being put into practice to improve results.

At each Monday’s staff meeting, Mitchell and his team review the data culled from the CWTs to discover how well teachers are implementing these suggested approaches–and which strategies need more emphasis during staff training.

“We started using them little by little, and now it’s just common culture for us,” Mitchell says. “But it does take time to get there.”

Down the hall, Assistant Principal Hilary Buckridge demonstrates a student-tracking system that Colonial teachers use to monitor the progress of their students.

Each week, she says, teachers export the data from the school’s student information system (SIS) into a database that automatically generates reports on which students are struggling academically, so “we can watch those students very carefully,” she says.
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The system is helping Colonial meet a new state mandate that requires schools to notify parents if their child’s grade point average dips below 1.9.

“Our teachers are pretty happy about it, because they don’t have to do anything–all they have to do is keep their [electronic gradebook] up to date, and reports are generated automatically,” Mitchell notes.

What’s going on at Colonial is a reflection of common practices occurring throughout Florida’s Orange County Public Schools (OCPS). Choose any school, and the chances are high that the same buzzwords Mitchell uttered–“high-yield strategies,” “learner engagement”–are part of the everyday lexicon there, too.

In a school system the size of OCPS–the nation’s 11th-largest, with 176,000 students and 12,000 teachers spread across 165 schools–“it can be hard to change the culture,” says Nora Gledich, director of leadership development for the district. But that’s just what OCPS has been able to accomplish.

School leaders are using the trends and patterns that appear in the CWT data to make more informed decisions about their staff’s professional development needs. Individual teachers are using the data they collect through periodic assessments to change their instructional practices. And technology is the catalyst for all of these reforms.

This change in culture “has resulted in a thousand school leaders who now speak a new language together,” Gledich says. “No matter who works where, we can have a real conversation about the children in our district and move things forward.”

As a result of this district-wide shift in culture, student achievement is on the rise, and OCPS is widely recognized as a high-performing school system.

Despite a highly mobile and diverse student population–OCPS students come from 179 countries and speak 132 different languages and dialects–the district’s graduation rate is 72 percent, above the average for the state of Florida, and its dropout rate is under 2 percent, best among the state’s seven urban districts. OCPS has achieved a “B” rating from the state, and 70 percent of its schools have earned either an “A” or a “B.”

How the district has achieved such remarkable success can be traced to its leadership at all levels–from the superintendent on down to the leaders in each building.
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Eliminating guesswork

A good example of this leadership can be found in the CWTs, which are “truly changing the way our principals operate,” says Nicholas Gledich, Nora’s husband and chief operating officer for the district.

There are many models for how to conduct CWTs in the United States, but Florida has adopted a particular model and has mandated that all principals in the state be trained in it, Nora Gledich says. But while you’ll see CWTs performed in every district throughout the state, perhaps no other Florida district has taken these quite to the level of OCPS.

For one thing, Nora and her staff decided early on to train not just the building principals, but the entire leadership team at each school.

“As a former principal, I said, ‘Let’s look at the reality of this–what principal do you know who works in isolation, where they’re the sole doer of anything in a school?'” she explains. Training an entire leadership team in each building allows for more CTWs to occur, while bringing the whole team into the decision-making process.

Florida uses Teachscape as the provider of its CWT training, based on a model for the walkthroughs that Teachscape created. It involves seven very focused “look-fors,” Nora says, that are based on sound educational research. “The seven things we look for are the things that, if a teacher and her students are showing evidence of these in the classroom, then we know the classroom produces higher achievement,” she says.

Besides learner engagement and the use of “high-yield” instructional strategies (which are identified in the research of Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering, and Jane Pollock), these indicators also include what the learning environment looks like and whether the objectives of the lesson are evident.

Teachscape has created a software program that works on a variety of handheld computing platforms for school leaders to record their observations about these indicators. The information is collected electronically, and reports are generated automatically to give building leaders a snapshot of what teaching and learning looks like in their schools.

It’s important to note that this is not an evaluative process, Nora says: Data are not collected on individual teachers, and they aren’t used to evaluate particular educators. “That’s what helped sell the program to the teachers,” she says. “We’ve had no issues with the union as a result.”

Data instead are collected in aggregate form, though they can be parsed according to grade level and subject area. “I can say, let’s take a look at the information only as it pertains to ninth-grade algebra, or eighth-grade language arts,” Nora says. School leaders then use these results to plan for their teachers’ professional development needs.

Nora says she appreciates the solution because “everything is so targeted. There is no guesswork in what we need to do to help teachers be more effective. Instead of saying, ‘What would you like to learn this year as a teacher,’ it’s now, ‘What do we need to learn in order to help our students?’ And that is quite incredible.”

But OCPS doesn’t just use data to drive professional development. It also uses data to inform classroom instruction.
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Orange County educators are using Riverside Publishing’s Edusoft platform to administer formative assessments at least four times a year, which they use to find gaps in their students’ understanding and target their instruction accordingly. Edusoft is a paper-to-web solution, meaning exams are given on paper and then scanned into a computer. The results are uploaded to an Edusoft server, where teachers have web-based, near-instant feedback.

Teachers can give an exam, then go to the faculty lounge to scan in students’ answer sheets–and by the time they get back to their classroom, the results are available online for instant analysis, says George Perreault, director of educational technology.

Edusoft is merely a platform for administering the assessments, and so OCPS partnered with The Princeton Review to create test items for each subject that correlate closely with state standards. Because of this close correlation, OCPS teachers can predict with a high degree of reliability which students are on track for passing the reading and math portions of Florida’s FCAT exam and which students need remedial help.

The initiative grew out of an effort by Superintendent Ronald Blocker four years ago to find ways to standardize assessment according to a single, district-wide model. As a result of this effort, OCPS officials looked at what all the schools were doing and identified best practices they could implement district-wide.

In a related initiative, elementary reading teachers also use Wireless Generation’s mClass solution to administer DIBELS exams via Palm computers. The system has slashed the amount of time it takes to administer the exams and get results back to teachers: OCPS now can turn around 100,000 exams in less than two weeks–about a third of the time it took before.

The district started this initiative as a pilot project five years ago with only a handful of schools. But “within the first four months, other schools were hearing what we were doing, and they wanted to participate,” Nick Gledich says. “And we pretty much had to say to these schools, ‘Hold off, let’s wait, let’s assess what we’re doing first before we go any further.'”

Early on in the project, however, it was clear the initiative was a huge success–and within three years, OCPS was offering the program at all of its elementary schools.

To facilitate teachers’ adoption of the system, district trainers first taught them how to use the Palm computers and gave them a chance to become familiar with the devices; only then did teachers learn how to use the handhelds to administer the DIBELS exam. This two-step process simplified things enormously and kept teachers from being overwhelmed.

“I don’t know of anything that’s been as accepted this easily by the elementary school teachers,” says Perreault. “The bottom line is, it makes their job easier, and they have more timely feedback. It’s much more efficient than what they were doing before.”
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Other projects under way

Such a strong reliance on data to better target instruction requires a robust SIS. However, until now, OCPS has had three different legacy systems in place in its schools: one each for the elementary, middle, and high schools. These three systems all feed into a central system used for state reporting.

Having three disparate systems poses many problems. So, in a major ed-tech initiative, OCPS is in the process of moving to a single system with a uniform interface for all schools. The district chose to standardize on Pearson’s SMS (formerly the Chancery Student Management System), because it was the most robust of the three systems in use. Its goal is to shift all schools over to SMS by spring 2009.

The SIS project is just one of several large-scale technology initiatives under way in the district. Another is a project to upgrade the district’s bandwidth and monitor its internet traffic. This project aims to supply a minimum of 10 megabits of bandwidth per second to each elementary school, 100 Mbps to each middle school, and 1 gigabit per second to each high school.

OCPS is taking advantage of 2007 eRate funding to make this happen. It has contracted with Tennessee-based ENA to oversee the project. ENA will own the routers at the school sites and will be responsible for monitoring internet traffic through these routers.

On the instructional side, OCPS received a $1 million grant to implement a project called the Integrating Technology into Reading Initiative. The project targets schools rated as “C” schools by the state, and participating teachers receive four days of training in multimedia creation. They also get a Macintosh laptop cart, a digital projector, and a digital camera; the goal is to boost students’ reading scores with multimedia projects.

Encouraged by Superintendent Blocker’s goal of “constant innovation,” OCPS is in the process of upgrading its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution from SAP version 4.0 to version 4.7 through a project called EFI, or Expanded Functionality Initiative.

The goal of this project, as its name indicates, is to expand the functionality of the district’s back-end software system. For example, OCPS is adding an e-Recruiting module that will help automate staff recruitment and move much of this process online, which should help the district meet its ever-challenging hiring needs. (This fall, the district has added about 800 new teachers–and that’s down slightly from previous years.)

OCPS also is implementing a district-wide web portal, based on Microsoft SharePoint technology, that will serve as a single point of delivery for online services, and it’s in the early stages of a three-year project to implement a comprehensive data warehouse to support instruction.

Not all of the district’s technology projects have gone smoothly. In one particular “pain point,” Nick Gledich says, OCPS ended up making headlines in the local papers for the wrong reasons: As the district began rolling out SMS in some of its schools, teachers had trouble retrieving their students’ grades. For some teachers, the software’s gradebook program simply froze–while others reported losing data altogether.

District officials looked into the problem and determined that it was an issue only with the software’s gradebook feature. All other aspects of the program worked well. So, rather than scrap the system entirely, they stripped the gradebook feature from SMS and sought another gradebook solution that would work with it.
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After doing their homework, they chose a program called ProgressBook, from Ohio-based Software Answers Inc. They did extensive testing to make sure it worked with SMS.

“We’re just starting to use ProgressBook with the middle schools, and we’re hearing from teachers, ‘My gosh, this is wonderful!'” Gledich says. “Teachers can take attendance in ProgressBook, and it feeds into SMS seamlessly.”

Keys to success

Aiding in its transition to the new system was the attention the district paid to “change management,” a business term used to describe the process for managing the people side of any major change. For OCPS officials, change management is extremely important–and it’s a key reason for the success they’ve had with new technology initiatives.

For its SIS project, OCPS chose to implement the new software in only 25 schools at a time. District officials also knew it was important to have a person on site at each school to help teachers with the transition, answer questions, and provide hands-on support.

The district didn’t have enough people on staff to make that happen, so it hit upon a creative solution: It hired and trained temporary employees from local staffing provider Tek Systems to fulfill this role.

Hiring temps for such an important role might seem a bit risky, but OCPS has had great success with this approach. “We made these 25 people important people for the district,” Nick Gledich explains. “And we gave them training they can use to further advance themselves.” While not everyone has worked out, OCPS has had to replace only a few of the temps.

To find these temporary employees, OCPS looked at state-sanctioned temp agencies that specialize in technology placements, says Valerie Hall, assistant director of the district’s customer care division. District officials were looking for a baseline set of technology skills, as well as change-agent skills, good communication skills, and the ability to learn. “We figured we could teach them the education business,” Hall explains.

OCPS pays the agency a flat fee per employee, and the agency handles individual temps’ salaries. Though the district has lost a few, the agency keeps a stable of qualified candidates and can replace them at a moment’s notice. “The key is to establish a good relationship with the temp company, so they know your expectations and know how well their temps are doing in meeting those expectations,” Hall says.

The temps received four weeks of training to become “customer care agents.” Once the software was implemented in the first 25 schools, they moved on to the next set of schools. The approach has worked so well that “this will be the model we’ll continue to use for other projects,” Hall says.

Change management is just one of several keys to the district’s success.

“If you were to ask me why we are experiencing success, I would say … because projects are not done in isolation–they are done in coordination with all of the divisions that support our schools,” Nick Gledich says.

For instance, the assessment office worked with the curriculum and professional development offices to implement the Edusoft and mClass projects. “All of those offices worked together to make this happen,” he says.
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Yet another key is how OCPS defines the concept of ownership over projects. In many districts, Gledich says, the IT department “owns” all tech-related projects–but at OCPS, it’s the business process owner who assumes responsibility for a project, and IT is responsible “only for the development of the tool and the support.”

That’s a change in philosophy that has been happening for the last three or four years, and it’s a good one, says Hermes Mendez, director of IT infrastructure for the district.

“Having been here 20-plus years myself, it’s always been [that] we’re pushing the technology to do things–and now it’s the other way around: We’re seeing more of a shift to the end-users, the professionals out in the field, pushing the use of technology,” Mendez says.

Roland Moore, who took over as chief information officer for OCPS just this summer after serving in that capacity for the Detroit Public Schools, says that was a key factor that attracted him to the district.

“Too often, technology is an answer in search of a problem,” Moore says. “And until you can find ways to embed it, it is never really realized in education until someone has a practical application. But when you have several systemic applications, it begins to vet itself as to how it should appropriately be applied to education. And that’s one of the things I saw happening here.”

Nick Gledich refers to this transformation from a “top-down” to a “customer-driven” approach to technology as yet another profound cultural shift within OCPS.

“It’s this cultural shift to a customer-driven [enterprise] that will allow us to expand our use of technology even further,” Gledich surmises.

Link:

Orange County Public Schools

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DuPont Challenge Science Essay Competition

Students write a 700 to 1,000 word essay discussing ascientific discovery, theory, event, or technology application that hascaptured your interest. Over the years,the judges have noted that winning essays reflect the several attributes,including creativity, originality, readability, thorough research, andappropriate choice of subject matter. Awards are given in junior, senior, and teacher divisions; the scienceteacher who sponsors the winning student receives a prize.

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Igniting Creative Energy Challenge

This award is an educational competition that encouragesstudents to learn more about energy and the environment. National winners will gainvaluable educational experiences and travel expenses.

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Student Achievement Grants

The NEA Foundation provides grants to improve the academicachievement of students in U.S.public schools and public higher education institutions in any subject area(s).The proposed work should engage students in critical thinking and problemsolving that deepen their knowledge of standards-based subject matter. The workshould also improve students’ habits of inquiry, self-directed learning, andcritical reflection. Proposals for workresulting in low-income and minority student success with honors, advancedplacement, or other challenging curricula are particularly encouraged.

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The Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award

In a continuing effort to recognize outstandingcontributions by K-12 educators and district level personnel in the field ofeducational technology, the Astronauts Memorial Foundation (AMF) in partnershipwith the Space Foundation and NASA, is pleased to present the Alan ShepardTechnology in Education Award. The award recognizes outstanding contributionsmade by technology personnel or classroom teachers to technologyeducation. It acknowledges theindividual’s direct contribution and exceptional accomplishment in technologyuse. Excellence in teaching may bedemonstrated in the classroom directly with students or to the professionaldevelopment of teachers in the school or district.

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Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program

This program supports projects to develop faculty andlibrary leaders, to recruit and educate the next generation of librarians, andto conduct research on the library profession and support early career researchon any area of library and information science by tenure-track, untenuredfaculty in graduate schools of library and information science. It alsosupports projects to attract high school and college students to considercareers in libraries, to build institutional capacity in graduate schools oflibrary and information science, and to assist in the professional developmentof librarians and library staff.

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National School Library Media Program of the Year

The National School Library Media Program of the Year(NSLMPY) Award honors school library media programs practicing their commitmentto ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information,as well as exemplifying implementation of Information Power. The awardrecognizes exemplary school library media programs that are fully integratedinto the school’s curriculum. Each winning program receives a $10,000prize ($30,000 total) donated by Follett Library Resources.

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