Successfully Implementing A Technology Plan

Readers discuss the duties of a school technology coordinator, the value of a technology plan, the importance of community involvement and the need for a better way to fund technology initiatives.

A Day in the Life

It seems each morning when I arrive at school that something new happened overnight, as if gremlins sneaked into my school just to keep me on my toes.

I arrive with a pretty good idea of what needs to be done and a general task list that I typically map out the day before. However, I often find myself dropping my planned daily roadmap in favor of some more imperative tasks. Thus is the nature of being a school technology coordinator: constant and evolving problem solving.

Currently, we are working on rolling out a district-wide initiative in Nashville that serves as a real-time attendance, grading and scheduling program for teachers, counselors and administrators. The project entails having a computer in every classroom and enables teachers to track attendance and progress for each period.

The reality is that this job is not something you can predict and plan for in advance. It is dynamic in nature and that is what makes it so exciting. You must be on your toes continuously and act proactively. Every day is a battle, and we work to see that it is won.

—Adam Arnold, technology coordinator, Katapultz Inc. Arnold is currently consulting at Hunters Lane Comprehensive High School, Nashville, Tenn.

As the next letter illustrates, having a coordinated technology plan is critical for schools to make the most of their equipment. Congratulations on your commitment to help make a difference in our schools.

It Takes a Village

This fall, I moved from one of New York City’s poorest, most underperforming elementary schools to one of its best schools, and each day I’m more amazed by the difference.

My new school has state-of-the art technology, which has helped me bring my science classrooms to life. Our microscopes connect to computers so students can make and record in-depth observations. We plan to take field trips to the school courtyard at night to track constellations with mapping tools. Students can even capture their observations with state-of-the-art digital cameras. We’re getting rolling carts with brand-new Macintosh notebooks that the students will be able to use at their desks.

However, it’s not the availability of technology that’s made the difference. Thanks to grants, aid and donations, my old school had a wealth of technology, but there was no one there to take the lead and develop a technology plan. As a result, most of the equipment went unused. My new school makes the most of the technology that it has, thanks in large part to the incredible parental involvement.

As you explore the ever-growing arsenal of technologies available to schools today, please don’t forget to emphasize the importance of a committed, active educational community. Without it, all the technology in the world won’t make a difference.

—Charles Bunshaft, science teacher, P.S. 131, Jamaica, N. Y.

Community involvement is one of the key ingredients to school success. Parents and volunteers have a lot of talent and energy to contribute, and those schools that welcome their efforts will undoubtedly find them to be invaluable.

What About Macs?

Thanks for putting together a tech magazine for the education world. I am disappointed, however, that it is biased toward the Windows PC environment. Why is this? Many school districts manage Apple-based environments.

—Barry Isseks, instructional tech support, San Ramon Valley Unified School District, Calif.

You’re right. Many schools currently run dual-platform environments, incorporating both Macs and PCs, to create cohesive infrastructures. See this issue’s Report Card (p. 10-11) for statistics on PC and Mac use in schools.

Catching Up With Technology

As a former journalist turned journalism teacher, my goal is to share my real-world experience with my high school students. Technology has come so far in the last few years that, with the help of our school’s graphic design department, I’ve been able to reach that goal and create a professional-quality newsroom in our high school. We have digital cameras, Quark XPress, a 13- by 9-inch color printer and Internet access that lets us upload papers to our printing company. We have everything—albeit on a smaller scale—that we had at my old newspaper.

But progress does have its limitations and challenges. Our tools are too powerful for our nearly outdated computers. At three and four years old, the machines often lack sufficient memory or capability to accommodate our new peripherals and software. We can’t connect the USB cable for our digital camera to the computers in the graphic design room, so we have to borrow a computer from another teacher, load our photos onto Zip drives and download them in the graphic design room. The Internet is an incredible educational tool, but not when it takes 30 minutes to send an e-mail.

So many schools are stuck in a Catch-22. Internet access, digital cameras and other high-tech offerings are becoming more accessible, but without enough money for memory upgrades and technical support, we can’t use some of the equipment that’s right under our nose. And with the educational budget crises around the nation, it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.

For all the emphasis that society places on technology in the schools, we need to find a smarter way to fund educational technology initiatives. Private business can be generous when it comes to donating software or offering educational discounts, but their philanthropy would go much further if they helped schools extend the longevity of the core equipment they already have.

—Michele Netto, English/journalism teacher, Barnstable High School, Hyannis, Mass.

While schools around the nation have done a great job keeping up with new tools to enhance the classroom experience, integrating those tools into existing platforms with limited funds is a problem for most. One solution is outside funding. This issue’s Teaching the Teacher (p. 14) offers tips on applying for grants more aggressively and successfully.

Feedback

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Reader Spotlight

Hundreds of children within the Cleveland Municipal School District don’t have a permanent place to call home. But thanks to a federally funded program and the technology that helps it thrive, these homeless children are able to enroll—and succeed—in school.

Project ACT (Action for Children in Transition) has served more than 1,500 children per year since its inception in 1993. Providing direct instructional and support services to children and youth who reside in temporary emergency shelters, the program facilitates the homeless child’s transition into school and strives to ensure his or her success and ongoing participation in the educational system.

Homeless children are identified primarily through the program’s 24-hour help line, which allows shelter providers to connect with Project ACT as soon as a child enters a shelter. Donated by a local phone company, the hot line is an integral part of the program’s success, according to Marcia Zashin, director of Project ACT. “Our voice mail system makes our enrollment process work seamlessly,” she explains.

Once children have been identified, the program oversees their registration, obtains school assignments and arranges for transportation services—all electronically. “I think we’re the only district that enrolls children by computer,” Zashin reports. With the simple touch of a button, enrollment information is transferred to the appropriate school. The only thing the student has to do is show up for class.

“The child goes into school just like any other child,” she explains. “There is no hassle, and it’s confidential. It’s all computerized and it’s just so easy.”

But Project ACT’s assistance doesn’t end once the child enters the school building. Homework assistance, tutoring, educational enrichment and support services are provided at eight homeless shelters throughout the city, all of which are staffed by district teachers. Furthermore, each location has computers. This not only enables children to use a wide variety of educational software games, but also serves as an invaluable resource for student assessment.

Because many students have not been attending school regularly, gauging their academic level can be a challenge. But with the help of a software program, Zashin notes, “We can assess reading growth in less than 10 minutes.” Objective assessments for both reading and math are later printed out and shared with teachers and parents, which further assists students in obtaining the customized support they may need.

Another resource provided by Project ACT is free voice mail boxes for homeless families, which allow the families to receive information from their child’s school about jobs and housing.

Teaching, combined with technology, is going a long way toward meeting the goals of Project ACT, which is on pace to help more children this year than ever before. Explains Zashin: “We’re able to make children feel comfortable, because we’re able to make them feel successful.”

Oct 12 2006

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