Each year, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) selects three school districts as co-hosts of a Technology Site Visitation, the purpose of which is to show educators how technology can be used to implement change across an entire district. One of NSBA’s 2008 site visits took place in February at the Kyrene Elementary School District, a high-performing suburban district in the Phoenix, Ariz., area that extends over 170 square miles, enrolls 18,500 students, and employs approximately 2,000 teachers, administrators, and staff.
Six years ago, Kyrene, like many other districts, faced multiple organizational and operational challenges. In particular, the district needed to improve accountability and gain greater district-wide efficiencies; address numerous, increasingly complex reporting requirements; simplify its hiring and monitoring practices to retain highly qualified teachers and staff; and create real-time, relevant, and actionable information concerning district business, events, and emergencies.
To address these challenges, district and community members developed an aggressive technology plan that remains the backbone of Kyrene’s continuing technology initiatives. The plan’s underlying philosophy is the belief that all technology–including data and information systems–affect student achievement.
Mark Share, director of technology and architect of the plan, explains: "We overhauled all of our information systems, from our data warehouse, to our student information systems, to the new HR/finance system, and it just continues. We’re trying to get all of these systems to talk to one another, so we can provide information and services to our students, teachers, staff, parents, and community in a seamless way."
To enhance its financial and human resources reporting and decision making based on real-time information, Kyrene implemented Windsor Management Group’s Infinite Visions software and the iVisions Web Portal. The core system came online in March 2006 and now includes financial, purchasing, human resources, payroll, warehouse, fixed assets, and state reporting modules. Using the system, employees can access integrated HR services and online workflow solutions in a secure portal environment.
Karin Smith, director of business services at Kyrene, discusses some of the efficiencies gained from the district’s new enterprise system: "One big advantage is that the resources of the system are available to our entire office and data processing staff. Site leaders and district office leaders can now make decisions based on information obtained electronically from our information systems, instead of requesting a report by telephone and then going through umpteen pages of data. We all do our jobs better because of that."
In 2003, Kyrene began the "Kyrene Teaches with Technology Project" (KTTP), a strategic partnership between grade-level teams of teachers, school administrators, and educational technology mentors to improve student achievement through the integration of technology into instruction.
Viewed in light of the district’s initial goals, KTTP has been an unqualified success. There are approximately 9,000 computers (including 4,400 laptops) in the district, along with a comprehensive data center and server facility housing a 100 Mbps enterprise network and an expanding wireless network. Though it began only five years ago with five laptops and a projector for one grade-level team at each of 12 elementary schools, KTTP currently includes approximately 90 percent of Kyrene’s classrooms in all schools.
How technology is implemented at Kyrene is just as impressive as the technology itself. KTTP is viewed by the district as a curriculum project, where technology is a catalyst for system-wide change and where training and support are key. "We believe that the teachable moment shouldn’t be governed by a computer lab schedule," says Share. "We put the laptops in the classrooms so that the students and teachers can use them whenever and wherever they need to."
According to Dan Neville, assistant director of technology, the goal of the ed-tech specialists "is to help teachers use these tools effortlessly, in ways that support and extend instruction." Technology’s rightful place in the classroom, Neville believes, is to play a supporting, rather than a starring, role. That philosophy is also reflected in the classroom software programs in use, the vast majority of which are productivity tools, not instructional ones. At Kyrene, teachers and instructional staff provide the educational content–not software.
Share says one of the next frontiers for Kyrene is strengthening the home-school connection. "Our goal," he says, "is to increase the amount of web-based information and educational resources available to parents and students at home."
On a daily basis, Kyrene Elementary School District demonstrates that when technology is strategically and appropriately utilized to support the teachable moment, it can transform instruction and increase student performance.