In three years, Larson has moved the Birmingham Public Schools into the 21st century with clear vision and a strategic district plan. A 21st-century goal within the plan calls for a culture that develops creativity, curiosity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and reflection among students, while preparing them for global engagement, competency, and digital literacy.
Through Larson’s leadership, the district’s Ignite Professional Development Program has given teachers opportunities to integrate technology seamlessly into their lesson design. A pilot program of eight teachers from four buildings has expanded to about 90 teachers from the district’s elementary and middle schools. By the end of 2012, all teachers in grades 3-8 will have completed their first year of Ignite training and will sustain their professional growth through research. Each teacher is given 1.5 days a month of professional development, exploring key principles of 21st-century learning through pedagogy, content knowledge, and technology. Four full-time teachers were hired to develop and implement this training, in which teachers collaborate across the district to develop lessons. This innovative project encourages students to work extensively with digital tools to create podcasts, videocasts, still images, and mind maps, and to use web-based environments (such as Moodle, blogs, and wikis) to construct, communicate, and collaborate across time, space, and geographical boundaries. Each classroom is given four cameras, four video cameras, and a projector. In addition, a wireless laptop cart with 15 computers is shared between two classrooms, and many classrooms have secured Promethean interactive whiteboards with the help of grant funds.
Larson and the school board further support this shift in pedagogy by allocating funds to send several teachers and administrators to various ed-tech conferences. In addition, Larson has invited many ed-tech leaders to speak in Birmingham, such as Troy Hicks, Alan November, Elliot Soloway, Sara Kadjer, and Yong Zhao. After-school technology workshops are offered to staff and parents, and a two-week Summer Institute is offered to staff and their students to build community and 21st-century skills through the use of digital resources.
Larson streamlines communication through the use of a district website that houses curriculum, the strategic plan, and websites for each building and teacher. Smart phones are provided for each administrator, and district board meetings are promoted through a local cable channel. District staff use Pearson Inform software to analyze student data and target instruction.