Racing to the top
In 2014, KVEC received a $30 million, four-year Race to the Top grant that’s being use to increase opportunities for students and develop blended learning initiatives across the group’s 19 public school districts. “All of our districts have been moving toward using technology more effectively, and especially in using technology in a personalized and concentrated manner,” says Hawkins. So far, the grant has been used to place “innovation coordinators” in every district (the grant doesn’t pay the coordinator’s salary, the district does), purchase equipment (like 70-inch, interactive Mondopads), rollout software (like the career and workplace skills program WIN Math), and support one-to-one initiatives.
Bowling and Hawkins see the KVEC model as particularly useful in rural areas of the nation, where geographic isolation impacts everything—such as teacher availability, the build-out of technology infrastructure, and collaboration with other institutions.
“Just in terms of internet access alone, our districts run into issues trying to make sure everyone has that kind of access outside of the school setting,” says Bowling. “This is an especially important point as we try to create learning environments that extend past the school walls and that can be accessed 24/7.”
Getting 19 districts on the same page can be as difficult as it sounds, said Hawkins, and the decision on whether to use their purchasing power for Apple or Windows laptops has been an ongoing challenge.
“Some districts really believe strongly in using a Windows-based application and some districts may believe strongly in using an Apple-based application,” Hawkins explains. “We try to make sure that our purchasing selections focus on all solutions—as much as possible—while also offering multiple solutions and opportunities.”
When making those decisions, KVEC turns to the 19 superintendents (one from each member district) that comprise its board of directors. “The board makes the decisions and charts the direction,” says Bowling, “on everything from special education and reading recovery to procurement and leadership development.” On the technology front, KVEC strives to make “technology accessible and data transparent,” says Bowling, who points to the group’s new learning portal as one example of how it’s using a social learning networking to engage school and community members.
Next page: Repeating the model elsewhere