Eighth Annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards

The move toward an increasingly digital society, and the emergence of a new era of accountability in the nation’s schools, have changed our expectations of the superintendency. As school leaders come to rely on computers and the internet to engage students’ interest, track their progress, personalize 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 eighth annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards, sponsored by Promethean and eCollege, eSchool News recognizes 10 of the nation’s top K-12 executives for their outstanding ed-tech leadership and vision. 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 at the same time as the American Association of School Administrators’ annual conference in Tampa, Fla., Feb. 15.

Randy Acevedo, Monroe County School District, Florida

In his three years as superintendent and 12 years as an executive staff member of the Monroe County School District, Acevedo has been a strong public advocate for the mission-driven use of technology.

Under his leadership, the district has provided a Tablet PC to every administrator and teacher, and access to wireless laptops for students, with plans to continue its vision of one-to-one computing for all students. Educators can access standards-aligned curriculum and instructional resources online, and they have portal-based access to an instructional management system, gradebooks, student data, and test scores to support instructional planning.

Owing to the district’s large geographical expanse, with the district office located as much as 100 miles from some communities, Acevedo uses online communications and high-tech presentations to share his vision with a district-wide audience. The school board telecasts board meetings, provides interactive board agendas, and uses the district’s web site to request input from parents and educators. Acevedo also has spearheaded an effort to provide timely information to district staff and students using an automated communications system, in which messages are sent within minutes. The district uses this system not only for emergencies but also to announce district events to families. This, along with an off-site web site, satellite phone communications, and an out-of-district eMail service for administrators, helps keep the district in constant communication during storm-related evacuations.

Never content with the “status quo,” Acevedo seeks out better and more efficient ways to reach his district’s goal of “Student Success…Whatever It Takes.” http://www.monroe.k12.fl.us

Ron Barlow, Tintic School District, Utah

Viewed throughout the state as a visionary leader, Barlow not only models the effective use of technology within his district; he’s also an avid experimenter. For instance, he recently started bringing an iPhone into meetings to better understand the latest technology trends and how they can be applied to schools.

Under Barlow’s leadership, the Tintic School District has achieved a one-to-one ratio of computers to students in all five schools, with interactive whiteboards in more than half of all classrooms. Thanks to his vision, Tintic has adopted the eMINTS Professional Development model, which includes 160 hours of professional development in the use of technology for participating teachers over two years. More than half of the district’s teachers have participated in this program.

Barlow has helped integrate technology into all aspects of administration, too, including improved online newsletters, financial procedures, an inventory system, and district communications through its web site and eMail. He has worked closely with the Central Utah Educational Services Center in developing and implementing the Administering with Educational Data (AWED) grant project, which provides technology training for school administrators. Barlow also serves on the Utah Education Network Steering Committee, which is the oversight board appointed by the governor for technology services and K-20 education in the state. http://www.tintic.k12.ut.us

John L. Barry, Aurora Public Schools, Colorado

Barry’s exemplary ed-tech vision is helping to improve all facets of education in Colorado’s Aurora Public Schools (APS) in just his second year as superintendent.

Soon after assuming his current post, Barry formed an Incident Response Team consisting of key staff members who have training and resources to support schools in the event of an emergency. The district has an incident command center that includes interactive whiteboards, digital phone systems, and multiple tuners to monitor news coverage. APS also has developed a variety of tools for reporting safety concerns, including SafetyNet, an online, anonymous reporting system for students, and Operation Silent Whistle, an online system that staff can use to report not only safety concerns but also fraud or waste. All district buses have GPS devices, and transportation staff have access to mapping and tracking software. This school year, all district sites became wireless to ensure easy access to internet resources for students and staff.

Barry understands that staff can be tech-savvy with adequate training, and he meets regularly with instructional technology coaches to update his own skill level. Under the direction of the district’s instructional technology director, all technology-related initiatives include job-embedded professional development. Because a large number of APS students speak Spanish as their first language, Barry also introduced a professional development opportunity for staff members who want to learn Spanish. Through MySpanishTeacher.com, hundreds of staff members are now learning Spanish. The project’s online component allows staff to log on anytime, anywhere to further their development.

Spearheaded by Barry, VISTA 2010–the district’s strategic plan–includes several initiatives that integrate technology into the curriculum. Barry also has created a Student VISTA Guidance Council to ensure that APS keeps a laser focus on student achievement and success.

Deborah Delisle, Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District, Ohio

Delisle has been a champion for integrating technology into instruction. She is currently leading a one-to-one laptop program in her district’s three middle schools, with plans to extend the project into high school.

All middle-school teachers received a laptop computer earlier this year, as well as training to ensure they are well-versed in classroom technology use. Next year, all sixth-graders will receive laptops of their own–again, with extensive training and support. At the end of the eighth grade, students will return their older, leased laptops for a current model to take with them to high school. At the end of his or her high school career, every student will have the option of purchasing his or her laptop for one dollar.

The driving force behind this program is the desire to give every student equal access to technology resources. “Seeing the inequity in our district–which is 80-percent minority–between wealthier families with computers at home and economically disadvantaged families, she determined to create a method to change this,” one district leader said of Delisle. And, thanks to her leadership and tenacity, the district was able to pass a tax levy to support the initiative. http://www.chuh.org

William A. Hamilton, Walled Lake School District, Michigan

Hamilton has been superintendent of Michigan’s Walled Lake Consolidated School District for two years and was the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum for 13 years. Throughout that time, and during his entire 36-year education career, he has been an early adopter of technology.

The entire Walled Lake district is connected via a wireless network, and Hamilton provides continuous professional development for all 1,800 employees. In 1999, Walled Lake implemented a one-to-one laptop program, which continues to flourish today. Three years of university research found the laptop classrooms to be more student-centered, more project-based, more engaging, and far more collaborative. In recognition of his leadership on this project, Hamilton was invited to serve on the board of directors for the One-to-One Institute, an international organization for promoting the use of technology in the classroom.

Every team of teachers in grades 3-11 has at least one set of 30 wireless laptops. At the beginning of each school year, staff members have the opportunity to participate in two days of technology-specific training sessions delivered mostly by their peers. Seven new schools have been built in the time Hamilton has been with the district, and he has helped ensure that each of these schools–including a new comprehensive high school–has state-of-the-art technology, computer labs, wireless capabilities, and enhanced communication systems.

Hamilton recently received the Michigan Schools Public Relations Association’s Outstanding Superintendent Communicator Award for the way he articulates and communicates to all district stakeholders. Under his direction, all curriculum areas strategically align with Michigan state standards for integrating technology to improve teaching and learning. Hamilton encourages and appreciates when his staff takes risks to try innovative strategies; most recently, with Hamilton’s encouragement, district educators have written a grant to employ the use of Second Life as a medium for staff development and academic intervention. http://www.walledlake.k12.mi.us

Abelardo Saavedra, Houston Independent School District, Texas

Saavedra credits much of his district’s extraordinary academic progress to its early adoption of innovative technology. From satellite tracking systems in school buses to the latest and most robust student information system, technology plays a critical role for the Houston Independent School District (HISD), the largest school system in Texas.

Entrusted with the care and education of 203,000 children at 295 campuses, Saavedra has helped establish HISD as a leader in education reform. HISD’s electronic library is regularly integrated into the curriculum. Student and teacher performance is closely monitored with technology systems. The thousands of cafeteria meals, textbooks, and gallons of gas in school buses are all tracked electronically. The district’s telephone messaging system allows the superintendent to reach tens of thousands of parents within minutes. And technology is helping HISD’s top teachers expand their instruction beyond the classroom walls through closed-circuit television or streaming video on the internet.

Saavedra insists on careful communication, training, and documentation of performance both before and after technology systems are implemented, to help ensure successful adoption and to consider future technological needs. His technology plan is designed to spur academic improvement and run the district as efficiently as possible–and his efforts have been rewarded with progress on the SATs and record scores on the state’s standardized exam. http://www.houstonisd.org

Ron Saunders, Barrow County Schools, Georgia

A 37-year veteran educator, Saunders has served as superintendent of both Huntsville City Schools in Alabama, where he founded the Huntsville Technology High School, and the Barrow County Schools in Georgia, where he has consistently leveraged technology and innovation to provide a world-class education to every student in the county.

Since Saunders became superintendent at Barrow in 1998, the student population has grown in both size and diversity–expanding from 7,400 mostly English-speaking students to just over 12,000 students, with more than 40 languages spoken. In response, Saunders has centralized the student registration process to better support multiple languages and installed Language-Line phone systems at each school to provide all school administrators with expert interpreters at a moment’s notice.

Two years ago, Saunders began his “Break the Bandwidth Barrier” campaign to implement an advanced cyber infrastructure, providing unprecedented access to educational resources, mentors, experts, interactive activities, and virtual learning environments for every student. Through a partnership with the Georgia Board of Regents, he established Barrow as the only school district in the state with access to Georgia’s research and education network, thus providing students with a tremendous increase in internet access and a permanent high-speed connection to Internet2.

This year, Saunders established his “Direct-to-Discovery” program to dramatically expand learning opportunities for middle and high school science. He established long-term educational partnerships with the state’s three tier-1 research universities, pairing Georgia’s leading professors in nanotechnology and genomics with district science teachers to develop a series of interactive sessions designed to engage students in the excitement of real science discovery. With the help of mobile high-

definition video conferencing units in middle and high schools, science teachers and students are now working directly in the nanotechnology clean room at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Genomics Laboratories at the University of Georgia. http://www.barrow.k12.ga.us

Jerry Vaughn, Floydada Independent School District, Texas

Under Vaughn’s leadership, this small district of approximately 950 students across the west Texas panhandle is in its fourth year of leading the charge for the Technology Immersion Pilot (TIP) in Texas. The TIP project involves 24-7 immersion of students and faculty from 44 middle schools across the state in a program that uses curriculum and technology tools to increase student achievement. Students in Floydada use their Apple iBook laptops in class as well as at home to complete their work.

While initial TIP funding was aimed at middle school students, Vaughn–with the support of the community and the school board–used local funds to expand the program to Floydada High School (FHS). Teachers have undergone extensive professional development with the help of Apple’s education division. As a result, student test scores have risen 36 points in math and 34 points in science in one year.

Seniors at FHS are using the available technology to complete dual-credit courses, allowing them to graduate with approximately 12 hours of college credit at a value to their parents in excess of $32,000.

Vaughn continues to lead the way in technology by implementing a citywide Wi-Fi network, and talks are underway to provide Floydada students with low-cost internet access at home, as well as throughout the community. With Vaughn as superintendent, students have become “digital natives” and have readily embraced the use of technology for learning. http://www.floydadaisd.esc17.net

Sue Walker, Shoreline School District, Washington

Walker has led Shoreline through a one-to-one laptop computing initiative involving more than 6,000 students in grades 5-12. The vision behind this initiative, now in its second year, focuses on equitable access to powerful learning tools for all students. Having begun her educational career as a high school math teacher, Walker brings a classroom practitioner’s perspective to her job–and she constantly emphasizes the role of creative and dedicated teachers as central to effective ed-tech use.

Walker’s commitment to the effective use of technology to enhance instruction extends well beyond the laptop program. Under her leadership, the district has installed projectors, document cameras, and audio systems in every classroom.

All elementary classrooms have had voice amplification systems installed, and middle and high schools will receive similar systems in the coming year. Shoreline also has made significant strides in the use of assistive technology for special-needs students, owing in large part to the hiring of a full-time employee to attend solely to this area.

Walker is keenly aware that hardware alone is inadequate for a successful technology program. The district currently has 12 full-time technology integration specialists who help teachers integrate technology into the curriculum; this support occurs on site and in the context of the teacher’s regular classroom instruction. Walker also has led an effort to look beyond the projected lifespan of the laptop initiative; the district is analyzing its options for a refresh in several years. http://www.shorelineschools.org

Jerry D. Weast, Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland

When Weast became superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS)–a large, culturally diverse school system of 21,000 professionals and 138,000 students–more than eight years ago, he set new priorities aimed at providing a high-quality teacher in every classroom, raising staff expectations of high academic achievement for all students, and giving educators the technology tools and support they needed to improve students’ performance. He has rallied the support of stakeholders to provide funding to refresh the district’s 40,000 computers, educational software, and network infrastructure every four years through a Technology Modernization program.

One of Weast’s key technology initiatives to support teaching and learning focuses on data-driven decision making. By urging the creation of an integrated quality management system, he has simplified access to relevant student achievement data.

As a result, teachers now have immediate access to student performance data, so they can assess students’ knowledge and abilities and tailor their instruction accordingly. Under Weast’s direction, MCPS has integrated technology into professional development for all staff. Staff members register for professional development opportunities through the Professional Development Online (PDO) web-based program, which has been tailored to meet the specific training needs of each staff member. Professional development is provided in a new, state-of-the-art Center for Technology Innovation containing four computer labs and a video conferencing room.

Weast also has led the effort to develop online formative assessments that provide immediate access to results. Teachers now use handheld computers to streamline the process and improve the accuracy of diagnostic information. The district’s most recent initiative is the installation of 18 Promethean ActivClassroom systems in 14 schools, with more than 22 additional schools to be added over the next two years. http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org

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