8 technology tips from top district leaders

Dr. Dallas Dance, Baltimore County Public Schools (Md.)

Baltimore County Public Schools is in the middle of a digital conversion that will give each student a learning device in the next few years. The district’s Blueprint 2.0, built on the success of former Superintendent Joe Hairston, focuses on helping students to become globally competitive through digital learning environments and the chance to learn a second language–the two major hallmarks of a global education, as decided by educators, stakeholders, and community members.

To learn more about each superintendent’s advice for district technology success, watch Part 1 and Part 2 of our TSSA webinar.

One of the conversion’s biggest components is Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT), which outlines eight different conversion modules.

Also key to the conversion’s success is its emphasis on planning first. “We did not start with the device at all. Out of the 19 months that we’ve been planning, the device only came up in the last four months,” Dance said.

At the end of the 2014-2015 school year, all 173 schools and buildings in the district will have wireless access. An infrastructure upgrade was essential, Dance said, and that necessity was evidenced by the fact that principals were purchasing their own wireless access points for their schools.

Another factor in Baltimore County’s success is the way in which district leaders approached funding. They first went line-by-line to identify potential existing funding sources that could be redirected before asking for additional funding.

Above all, the district’s aim is to leverage technology to personalize education for all students.

“The status quo was just a little bit more dangerous than the unknown,” Dance said.

Dr. Christine Johns, Utica Community Schools (Mich.)

In Utica Community Schools, personalized learning is a key priority.

“We focused on personalizing our curriculum for all students in order to extend learning beyond classroom walls,” Johns said. “We’re really making sure our students are preparing for post-secondary education and that they’re really able to compete at a global level,” Johns said.

The district’s digital learning initiatives include upgrading the wireless infrastructure, revising an ed-tech plan using a research-based framework, implementing an elementary level personalized blended learning model, redesigning secondary school programs, and piloting digital content and assessments.

A middle school design and engineering course lets students explore chemical, civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering.

Johns said some keys to success include building leadership capacity at multiple levels, starting with pilots and learning from successes and failures before scaling up, investing in the development of teacher learning, focusing on teaching practices that engage students, spurring innovation by rewarding risk-taking, using data to identify learning needs and personalize interventions, and empowering educators to review and vet digital content and tools.

“This really is an always-on, connected world, and our students need to have access to it,” Johns said.

Dr. Kamela Patton, Collier County Schools (Fla.)

A large part of Collier County’s success in its digital transition has been its focus on professional development, which Patton said accompanies educators every step of the way.

The district, at 2,300 square miles, covers a very large land mass, and it partnered with the county government to manage the cost of installing a district-wide fiber optic network that connects all schools. There are more than 2,000 wireless access points in 50 schools.

Collier County’s BYOD program launched in three phases–in August, 11 schools moved to BYOD, 21 schools adopted the policy in January, and the rest of the district’s schools will move to BYOD in August of 2014. Local company Arthrex donated 280 iPads so that schools would have classroom devices available for students who may not have devices.

“That’s been important, because you can see the increase in student attendance, the decrease in discipline problems, and all because the students are more engaged,” Patton said.

The district is piloting the use of electronic student portfolios in 5 elementary schools and hopes to expand to more grades.

Dr. Steven Webb, Vancouver Public Schools (Wash.)

Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) focuses on time and space–thinking differently about using time, space, and technology to maximize learning potential.

VPS began thinking differently about learning environments in order to make learning more impactful with its weLearn initiative, a one-to-one program that brings powerful learning tools and resources to each district classroom to accelerate student outcomes, Webb said.

“This initiative isn’t about technology; it’s about equipping each of our graduates with the adaptive skills they need to thrive in an interconnected and globally competitive economy,” Webb said. “Transformation takes time and intention–we’ve been very deliberate here.”

VPS is in its sixth year of implementation and is just now scaling its one-to-one throughout the district. Its four initiative phases include outlining a vision for the district, preparing the system, transitioning to implementation, and going to scale.

The district built staff capacity a year in advance of deployment so that professional development was already in place.

Overall district goals are to enhance instructional quality; improve student learning; develop safe, responsible, and productive digital learning; and promote equity of access to 24/7 learning opportunities.

“This is about creating the culture to empower teachers to take informed risks,” Webb said. “Rather than being the first adopter, be the best adopter.”

Laura Ascione

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