eSN’s 2011 Tech-Savvy Superintendents were selected for their dedication to student learning and technology implementation.

Partnerships with local businesses to provide free Wi-Fi for students … a virtualization project that reportedly has saved $1.5 million in energy costs … an instructional content repository so teachers can share lessons, activities, and assessments: These are among the many impressive ed-tech accomplishments of our 2011 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award winners.

Sponsored by SMART Technologies Inc., RM Educational Software, JDL Horizons, and K12 Inc., the 11th annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards recognize senior school district executives from around the nation who best exemplify outstanding leadership and vision in using technology to advance their district’s educational goals.

“Research shows that technology can facilitate better teaching and learning, but only when used judiciously,” said Dennis Pierce, editor of eSchool News. “And that starts at the very top, with strong district leadership. If you start with a clear vision for how to implement technology effectively, and you make sure your staff is well trained and supported, and you seek to transform instructional practices to leverage technology’s full potential, then technology really can empower education. And that’s what the winners of our annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards are doing.”

As educators come to rely on technology 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 now an essential characteristic for the 21st-century school superintendent. eSchool News created its awards program in 2001 to recognize and encourage this quality.

Chosen by the editors of eSchool News with help from last year’s winners, the 2011 award winners will be honored in a private ceremony held in conjunction with the Century Club 100 meeting at the American Association of School Administrators’ annual conference in Denver Feb. 17. The ceremony will be shown live online at www.eschoolnews.com from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Mountain time (1:30 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. Eastern time).

The ceremony will feature Tom Carroll, Ph.D., president of the National Commission of Teaching and America’s Future, who will discuss how education leaders can transform schools from teaching organizations into learning organizations.

To meet this year’s winners, read on. For a list of the criteria we use in judging these awards, click here.

Matt Akin
Piedmont City Schools
Alabama

Before becoming superintendent of the Piedmont City Schools—a small, rural district of 1,100 students—Akin was the district’s technology coordinator and also served as principal of Piedmont High School. Because of his technology background, Akin is extremely interested in connecting with the “digital generation.” His participation in the Superintendent Leaders Network, an initiative jointly managed by the School Superintendents of Alabama and the Alabama Best Practices Center, further deepened his commitment to engaging students in learning through the use of technology.

In September, Piedmont became one of the first school districts in Alabama to, in Akin’s words, “engage in a bona fide one-to-one laptop initiative that provides a computer for students’ use 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for all students in grades four through twelve.” With the help of a federal technology grant, the district acquired 800 MacBooks through a lease-purchase agreement. As a result, the project—called MPower Piedmont—has put a computer in 500 homes that never had one before.

Understanding that providing laptops for students was only one part of the equation, Akin looked for opportunities to provide staff training around the successful use of technology. He found funding that enabled 80 percent of Piedmont’s faculty to attend a conference on successful implementation of a one-to-one laptop initiative, where 40 school systems from 18 states were involved. This initial professional learning is reinforced by ongoing support through the district’s technology integration specialists and the state’s Technology in Motion initiative.

Parent meetings were held to review policies and procedures for students’ use of the laptops. All parents were required to attend, and students received the laptops to take home once their parents participated in one of the meetings. But Akin didn’t stop there. Realizing that 65 percent of his students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, he worried that wireless access might not be available to them at home. So he worked with local businesses and churches to bridge the digital gap. As a result, two of Piedmont’s three fast food restaurants now offer free Wi-Fi access. Additionally, churches are now offering free wireless access and supervision of students. Akin is now working with his local housing authority to provide free access there as well.

Ultimately, Akin says, “this project is not only about preparing our students for the future, but preparing our entire community.”

Jim Cain
Klein Independent School District
Texas

Cain was Klein ISD’s first technology director in the late ’80s. From his initial leadership in using technology to increase productivity both inside and outside the classroom, to his current role as superintendent, he has carried this district of 45,000 students and 6,000 employees to national prominence as a model for effective technology use.

Under Cain’s leadership, the Klein ISD school board operates in a digital, paperless environment, with each member given a district-owned laptop. All board agenda items and support documentation are posted on a web-based application. In 2007, the Klein ISD school board was designated as one of the top 10 tech-savvy boards from the National School Boards Association.

Two major instructional technology initiatives in Klein ISD’s technology plan are the Technology Baseline Standard Initiative (TBSI) and the One‐to‐One Tablet PC program. Through the TBSI, all K‐12 core content classrooms have been equipped with a minimum of five networked computers, an interactive whiteboard, a projector, a document camera, and a student response pad system for ongoing assessment. Intensive professional development accompanies the installation of technology tools in every classroom. The One‐to‐One Tablet PC program now provides nearly 10,000 teachers and students on four different campus locations with 24-7 access to rich instructional materials and powerful productivity tools. With the implementation of the district’s Tablet PC program, schools have seen an increase in state test scores in all four core content areas, especially in math and science.

Klein ISD’s success in implementing highly effective instructional technology programs starts with Cain’s leadership and his ability to clearly articulate—within the district itself, and to the community at large—a vision for education in the 21st century, with a focus on meeting the learning needs of all students. Beyond the use of technology in the classrooms, Cain also leads all support departments in using technology to maximize district resources. Through the use of complex data systems, all departments are better able to manage resources such as funding, staff, buildings, grounds, utilities, security, food service, transportation, and other functions needed to run a large school district.

Cain has been a frequent speaker at state and national conferences, where he has been able to share his expertise and help others replicate Klein ISD’s success with technology for learning and for running a school district. Klein ISD also frequently hosts visitors from around the state and nation, who come to see firsthand the full scope of the district’s technology programs.

Alberto M. Carvalho
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
Florida

Carvalho is leading Miami-Dade County as it reinvents its business practices, instructional resources, content delivery, and teaching methods.

Board meetings now feature video conferencing and multimedia presentations. The school district connects with the community through Facebook and Twitter, and it regularly provides event webcasts for those who cannot attend. Qualified Zone Academy Bonds have helped the district upgrade its computers, while a $3.5 million federal broadband grant has given students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches at 35 low-performing schools access to 6,000 computers and more than 10,000 one-year internet subscriptions.

Professional development is the key to any successful technology initiative, and all stakeholders are included in implementation. For instance, when the district began its Saturday School program targeting low-performing schools, video training podcasts were posted on the district’s server for easy download, and staff received iPod touch devices to access training videos.

Miami-Dade County has virtualized its IT infrastructure using VMware technology, creating more than 702 virtual machines to deliver applications, including payroll and grade reporting. This migration has saved more than $2.5 million over three years and has reduced energy costs by $1.5 million. When he observed that some of the district’s digital resources were underused, Carvalho launched Links to Learning, which gives students and parents access to district-licensed online content, including individualized learning paths customized to each student’s needs, after school hours.

Carvalho has made modernizing the district’s legacy business operation systems a priority and has launched a more dynamic purchasing system district-wide. Aware of the challenges facing large urban school districts, he understands that technology can be the bridge by which these challenges and barriers to a high-quality education can be crossed.

Camille Casteel
Chandler Unified School District No. 80
Arizona

Casteel recognizes the promise technology holds in transforming teaching and learning. In her 15 years as superintendent, her leadership has propelled Chandler USD on a sustainable path toward 21st-century learning. Technology is central to the district’s strategic plan, called Journey 2020, creating a “district of choice” through personalized learning. Casteel leads the journey, keenly focused on continuous improvement by means of high-quality assessment, high-quality learning experiences, and effective teaching, while managing costs and increasing productivity. She views technology as the key to innovation and to redesigning how schools do business.

Highly respected by the community, Casteel has forged many strong alliances with businesses and higher-education institutions—most notably with Intel Corp. Through this partnership, Chandler has been able to use Intel’s expertise and funding to help with planning its technology infrastructure and to support its professional development in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Casteel led the drive to develop Chandler’s website and an integrated suite of network-delivered applications known as Chandler’s Information Portal. This allows “one-stop shopping” for administrators, teachers, support staff, and the community. The website is a true content management system, designed to put the tasks of editing and posting content into the hands of those who own the information. All district media resources are available through a single searchable database accessible by staff, students, and the community.

The Assessment Management for Instruction (AMI) system—a segment of the portal—is a realization of Casteel’s vision to give instructional staff access to a wide variety of achievement results, including district benchmark tests, state tests, and teacher-created assessments. The data are hosted in a district-developed data warehouse that connects achievement, professional development for teachers, and demographics in a district-developed student information system. Reports available on teachers’ and administrators’ desktops place data quickly into the hands of those making instructional and resource allocation decisions. High-quality professional development helps instructional staff to be “data wise” and use information in ways that support their planning of student-centered classrooms.

Chandler USD is one of the fastest-growing districts in the state. This district of more than 38,000 students has opened 21 schools since 1998 and now consists of 29 elementary schools, seven junior high schools, four high schools, and two alternative schools. More than 2,000 classrooms in Chandler are equipped with a ceiling-mounted LCD projector, document camera, eInstruction Chalkboard (wireless slate), one to four computers, and a diverse array of software. Casteel is adamant that equipment and software be distributed equitably, with older schools being renovated and outfitted to meet a common district-wide standard, and that teachers participate in professional development before implementing the technology tools. Professional development may be accessed through traditional workshops, podcasts, classroom follow-up sessions, and website information.

All projects are reviewed and analyzed to determine their effectiveness; classroom walkthrough protocols, for instance, evaluate the integration of technology to increase active student engagement.

Michael A. Davino
Springfield Public Schools
New Jersey

Davino came to Springfield Public Schools in 2004 with a great deal of experience in implementing technology initiatives: At the Petrides Educational Complex in Staten Island, N.Y., he created one of the first wireless one-to-one laptop initiatives in the United States. The year was 2000, and the initiative was titled “Leap to the Millennium.” This initiative pioneered the concept that each classroom becomes a computer lab in real time.

One of Davino’s first actions in Springfield was to assess the district’s technology infrastructure. He increased its bandwidth through fiber-optic connectivity, and by 2006 he had successfully implemented a one-to-one laptop initiative for all students in grades six through 12. In addition, all preschool through fifth-grade classrooms received four or five Apple laptops, and all instructional staff have their own laptop. All students and staff have access to interactive whiteboards, iPod touches, and other multimedia tools for classroom assessment and instruction.

In developing Springfield’s 21st Century Technology plan, Davino designed a unique funding model that supports technology through a per-pupil allocation, ensuring that all students have access to the most innovative technology the district can support. School district business is streamlined through the use of SchoolDude.com for online work orders, and the school board is moving toward “paperless” meetings and business. Ongoing professional development is a key component in the district’s success, with in-district training from IDC Corp. and online access to Atomic Learning webinars and other resources. Through these means, student instruction has been transformed into engaging, rigorous learning experiences that foster independence and personal growth.

Springfield’s technology plan has been used as a template by the New Jersey Department of Education, and recently the district accepted a first-place award from the Center for Digital Education’s National Digital School Districts Survey.

Deb Henton
North Branch Area Public Schools
Minnesota

District employees call Henton “an exceptional role model and leader” with her personal use of technology and her support for integrating technology into the curriculum.

Henton’s use of technology demonstrates her commitment to transparent communication with all district stakeholders. Under her leadership, podcasts of school board meetings are available with one click on the district’s website. To communicate the district’s financial situation more widely during budget and levy discussions, she embraced the use of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and she initiated a “Key Communicators” network to quickly disseminate critical information to community stakeholders using eMail. She also writes about local and global public education issues with her own blog, called “Supe of the Day.” To reduce travel time, she participates in meetings through the use of Skype.

Included in the district’s strategic plan are action items for integrating technology into the curriculum. Henton was instrumental in seeing that all students have access to Google Gmail accounts through school. She led the way for district leaders to use text messaging long before it reached its current level of popularity. In need of a reading intervention program for students, she was instrumental in securing funds and training to implement Scholastic’s researched-based reading program, Read 180. Also, before student response systems became popular, she was using cell phones to engage staff members by having them answer survey questions during staff development meetings.

Even during challenging economic times, Henton continues to see that funds are allocated for professional development workshops related to technology use. She has demonstrated a clear vision for technology integration and continually explores new ways to use technology as a tool for improving teaching, communication, and school district efficiency.

David F. Larson
Birmingham Public Schools
Michigan

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.

David McGehee
Lee’s Summit R-7 School District
Missouri

McGehee has provided leadership for a number of ed-tech initiatives, including the district’s exemplary use of SMART Boards, handheld student response systems, computer software intervention programs such as Fast ForWord, and a new audio enhancement program for kindergarten classrooms.

This year, McGehee spearheaded efforts to move to electronic “walkthroughs” using McREL software and BlackBerry devices as part of R-7 Professional Learning Communities. In addition, he supports an ongoing focus on comprehensive training for employees, ensuring that staff development is included in any new technology initiative. With funding from a district-wide technology budget, enhanced by voter-approved bonds, technology is equitably distributed throughout the district, thanks to consistent district technology standards.

With the nation in fiscal turmoil, school districts across the country have felt the sting of shrinking budgets, which has led to uncertainty and fear. To help alleviate this anxiety, McGehee recently initiated video podcasts to help communicate with staff members and is planning to expand this effort to the community at large. In addition, Lee’s Summit offers stakeholders weekly eNewletters, as well as Facebook and Twitter links, that provide up-to-the-minute news regarding district-level activities and initiatives.

McGehee is also a tireless proponent of preparing students for postsecondary programs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and subsequent careers in these fields. All of the district’s middle and high schools house Project Lead The Way (PLTW) courses that use technology on a daily basis, such as Inventor, a desktop 3D computer-aided design program. Lee’s Summit also boasts one of the region’s premier STEM programs at Summit Technology Academy. Other local districts that have implemented PLTW courses have visited Lee’s Summit to see its model for STEM preparation in action.

McGehee initiated the use of BlackBerry devices among administrators and helped the district launch BoardDocs, providing paperless board meetings that can be easily accessed online. He also promotes paperless meetings and study groups among staff through the use of the Blackboard learning management system.

Kathy Spencer
Onslow County Schools
North Carolina

Armed with her bright purple laptop, Spencer routinely can be found attending Professional Learning Communities, principal meetings, community focus groups, schools, and classrooms. Her peers view her as a leader who truly portrays the need for technology integration in every classroom within the 37 school sites in Onslow County.

The district was chosen among a large number of applicants to participate in Project K-Nect, a research program funded through Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach Program that gives students access to mobile devices with instructional software and tools to support secondary mathematics.  The project began with two ninth-grade Algebra I classes, and its success enabled Onslow County to raise more than $2.5 million to replicate the program across all high school Algebra I classes. Participating students have achieved an average of 20 percent better on the state’s Algebra I year-end exam compared with non-participating students.

Spencer created a task force to provide teachers with the tools to increase teacher productivity. In October 2007, the first of more than 1,600 laptops were deployed to licensed staff across the district. To date, 1,000 interactive whiteboards, document cameras, and LCD projectors help teachers provide engaging instruction that fosters student participation within classrooms. What’s more, registration for all professional development opportunities is automated and tracked to make sure all staff are kept abreast of licensure requirements.

Technology also is evident in the district’s use of a parent emergency notification system, automated work order facility maintenance, and a web-based prepayment system for student meals—and Spencer is keenly aware of the need to ensure that technology is used to increase student learning.

Eric Williams
York County School Division
Virginia

Williams guides decisions for using technology to enhance teaching and learning with a collaboratively developed vision that emphasizes both rigor and student engagement. To improve students’ access to technology, he has revised board policy to allow for student cell-phone usage for instructional purposes; pushed central office staff to give students and staff access to Skype, Google Docs, and screencasting tools for meeting, sharing, and broadcasting content; and is finalizing efforts to allow students to access York County’s network using their own laptops and other mobile devices.

Williams supported the creation of a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure that will allow teachers and students to use network applications anytime, anywhere. He also led the expansion of York County’s virtual learning program. In addition to providing more than 60 virtual courses taught by York County teachers, Williams has encouraged the blending of live and virtual instruction at the secondary-school level—and all high school-level courses taken by middle school students for credit now have a virtual component embedded in the course. As a result of his leadership in virtual learning, Williams has met with state officials to discuss online-learning legislation that subsequently was adopted by the state legislature.

With regard to professional development, Williams supported the introduction of an instructional content repository so teachers can share lessons, activities, and assessments. He also promoted greater understanding of the link between digital technologies, engagement, and rigor by convening a Leadership Academy that featured Alan November, and he expanded the notion of “leadership” by including teachers and ed-tech facilitators in this academy. In addition, Williams has ensured the equitable distribution of technology by allocating stimulus funds to all schools to purchase peripherals, software, and web-based resources using a formula that provided additional funds for high-need schools. He also successfully requested $100,000 from a private donor to establish an endowment for technology and initiated a campaign for matching funds with assistance from local Parent-Teacher Associations.

Williams models the effective use of technology by routinely using GoogleDocs, Ning, and other Web 2.0 tools to work collaboratively with staff, and he promotes the use of technology to streamline business operations as well, such as a web-based system for parents to pay for and monitor their children’s school meals; a web-based school registration process; and the use of GPS technology on school buses to enhance safety and efficiency.