8 technology tips from top district leaders

Dr. Luvelle Brown, Ithaca City School District (N.Y.)

Ithaca City School District leaders identified why they wanted to bring about a digital transformation, and then outlined methods, strategies, and tools. School leaders focus on how they can use those digital tools to change perceptions of teaching and learning.

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

“We want to create a community of 6,000 thinkers…and to do so, we’re going to educate, engage, and empower,” Brown said.

Since the beginning of its efforts, the district has seen its graduation rate increase form 78 percent to more than 90 percent, SAT scores have increased 36 points, attendance is up and discipline issues are down, and enrollment in advanced-level coursework has increased.

All school buildings are equipped with wireless, and the wireless extends to parking lots and playgrounds. A superintendent student advisory council links student opinions and surveys to district leadership. Contemporary learning spaces include workspaces on the floor, stand-up desks, and other non-traditional seating arrangements.

Chi Kim, Ross School District (Calif.)

Working within the existing district budget, Kim’s main charge was to use innovation, differentiation, and communication to effect change within the district.

Leaders increased student engagement and differentiated curriculum by leveraging technology tools and content to increase academic rigor and engagement.

New middle school course offerings include robotics and design courses, 3D animation, movie making, and app creation. Computer programming is embedded into core district content, including a math unit with programming elements for grades 6-8.

Teachers work with technology integration specialists to ensure their instructional methods incorporate technology but focus on student engagement. Professional development is individualized, which Kim said has increased classroom technology integration by 200 percent.

“We have to model for teachers what differentiation looks like,” Kim said, noting that if district leaders expect educators to differentiate their instruction, they themselves must adopt that same practice. “We honor teacher growth and support the technology team.”

Dr. Karen Rue, Northwest Independent School District (Texas)

The district embarked on its digital learning initiative first by examining its infrastructure and identifying what should be available to students.

Rue’s district installed wireless access throughout the district, teachers received laptops, and the district moved to a one-to-one program, first at the secondary level, and then at the elementary level.

During the first year of the rollout, Rue said that while teachers knew how to teach with technology and that though students knew how to use technology, “the work being designed by all of us was not coming across for students–they didn’t see themselves in that work and they weren’t being asked…to demonstrate their learning and collaborate with one another,” she said.

After a series of focus groups and summits, Rue said district leaders restructured their approach to lesson design. They knew that “the intent of lesson design and of student experience has been absolutely transformational,” she said.

For the past several years, students have presented their work and experiences with digital learning in an effort to let the community understand what they are capable of. The first year, 200 students presented, followed by 500 in the second, and this past year, more than 1,000 students demonstrated their digital work and accomplishments.

“It gave our kids a real and authentic platform for showing what they are truly capable of,” Rue said.

George Welsh, Center Consolidated School District (Colo.)

District leaders prioritize broadband connectivity and full wireless coverage to enable student learning, which is especially important and challenging in a rural district.

Center Consolidated began its technology initiative about eight years ago as district leaders started thinking about how district students might prepare for competition in a global world.

First up, Welsh said, was a strong network backbone offering full wireless throughout the district. Technology tools include laptops and iPads, and the district currently is converting to all iPads.

District leaders follow a two-step plan in order to offer robust technology access to students, and Welsh offered the same advice to other districts.

First, “find a way to get your preferred technology into the hands of teachers,” he said. District leaders must be careful not to assume that teachers have technology access outside of school. Establishing a cooperative purchasing plan may be helpful, and offering full support for teachers to become masters of at least one technology medium is key.

Second, “find a way to get your preferred technology into the hands of kids. The only way I can suggest this…if there’s not a lot of excess funding out there…make technology a non-negotiable part of your annual budget,” Welsh said. “We set aside the dollars for instructional technology and we don’t cut into that.”

Starting with small pilots can save money as districts seek to first prove effectiveness before scaling up.

The district’s graduation rate has increased from 33 percent to 93 percent, and post-secondary participation for students two years out of high school rose from 25 percent to 76 percent.

Laura Ascione

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