A big ‘hoo-ah’ to Fort Huachuca schools

Arizona’s Fort Huachuca School District has teachers create personalized staff development plans around technology each year, and a tech integration specialist program at each school is evaluated frequently for success. Thanks to the use of students response systems and a one-to-one iPad 2 initiative, among other programs, students are more engaged in classroom activities and view learning with new perspectives.

For these reasons and more, we’ve chosen Fort Huachuca School District as our “eSchool of the Month” for June. Here, Superintendent Ronda L. Frueauff discusses the district’s ed-tech accomplishments and the keys to its success.

(Editor’s note: To nominate your school or district for our “eSchool of the Month” feature, and to read about past winners, go to http://www.eschoolnews.com/eschool-of-the-month.)

How do you use technology to advance student learning?

We’ve focused on using technology and embedding it into our instructional programs for 10 years. The first steps we took included creating the infrastructure to increase access to technology resources for students and staff. That is an ongoing process in the district, which presently includes fiber and T-I connections in all 3 buildings. We’re also building a new high-tech middle school (with a STEM focus), where we’ll use cloud computing to support a one-to-one computing initiative using iPad 2 tablets for all students and staff members.

The other area receiving immediate attention is staff professional development. Each staff member creates a nine-hour technology professional development plan each year. Students use various software programs to assist with learning: Study Island, Skills Tutor, SOAR, STAR Reading and Math, STAR Enterprise, Discovery Science, JASON Project, and more. Teachers use the software for introducing content knowledge, reinforcement and practice, and for remediation/enrichment activities.

Have you noticed an increase in student performance and/or motivation as a result of this technology use? If so, how?

The one-to-one computing initiative is being piloted in the old school in preparation for the new school to open in August, and the students are very engaged. The apps we have purchased let the students access information more readily and help them ratchet up the quality of research they are doing for projects and activities. The incorporation of SMART Board technologies into the K-5 program has resulted in increased student achievement and student engagement. The middle school programs use Promethean ActivBoards, and the depth of curricular enhancement and enrichment offered at that level is phenomenal. Student responders are used at all levels in grades 3-8 to encourage active participation by the students as they are learning.

How do you use technology to streamline school administration and aid in decision-making? To what effect?

The teachers all use the teacher pages and the parent portal of PowerSchool to communicate class expectations and grading practices, as well as lesson components. This parent communication component has increased parent connections with the school and teachers. PowerSchool also has increased the overall efficiency of the school district staff with regard to student data management. Clerical staff, as well as attendance clerks, use this software to manage attendance data, report cards, and scheduling.

In the new middle school, highly sustainable and energy-efficient components are being placed in the school to help custodial and maintenance staff. Additionally, an energy dashboard will monitor energy use, and the students can use the data for projects and inquiry-based learning activities. Comparative analysis will be possible for each instructional pod in the building, so we can focus on energy conservation at the school level.

How have you financed your ed-tech initiatives?

The district finances its initiatives using federal Impact Aid funds, eRate funds, and most recently, a $1.2 million Department of Defense Educational Activity Grant. This is a three-year, district-wide grant that has expectations for achievement as well as staff professional development. The community served by our school district is predominantly military-affiliated. The location of the school district (on an army base) brings with it some challenges that technology helps us deal with more effectively. Mobility is a factor for us; student attendance data management helps us transition our students effectively when their parents are deployed to another work site.

What project are you most proud of, and why?

At this time, we’re most proud of the implementation of a technology integration specialist coaching program at each school. The specialists assist all teachers in lesson design and delivery, with an emphasis on integrating technology. The program is very comprehensive and is evaluated quarterly by the staff and twice a year by an external evaluator. The specialists used a technology integration matrix to establish a baseline for teachers in technology integration, and now they are designing professional development and professional coaching activities to support the growth of teachers to the infusion level.

What have been your biggest ed-tech challenges, and why? How have you overcome them?

Real-time accessibility of resources was a key challenge that affected our teachers’ ability to integrate technology effectively in their instruction. Staff became frustrated with the backbone infrastructure and our capacity to run software effectively. We are a small school district, and our staff resources are minimal. Over time, various consultants worked on portions of the backbone, additions were made and upgraded, and the compatibility of the components wasn’t always certain and it was not very efficient. We partnered with corporate experts to help us with this problem and to get the network operating effectively, so that when teachers started using technology it actually worked, the students were engaged, and the teachers felt immediate rewards without excessive frustrations.

What’s your best ed-tech advice for colleagues?

Research, research, research—that is the most important piece of advice I can give. It is vital that individuals search out information about any hardware, software, or infrastructure components being considered for purchase in the district. The time spent in the pre-purchase data collection process will return itself exponentially for a school administrator, because it will prevent decision-makers from being dazzled by glitz and not having substantial quality when the purchase is complete.

Continue to expand your personal knowledge base, and become a tech-savvy leader so you can make sound decisions for the system for which you are responsible. That way, you will make more informed purchasing decisions and use precious resources more efficiently and effectively.

This work is never finished, because new technologies are emerging daily. Keep an open mind and engage in informed decision making; prepare yourself and your staff for constant change.

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