Sep 18 2017

3 Takeaways from Virginia Beach City Public Schools’ Tech Overhaul

From teacher preparation to pilot programs, the shift to digital has paved the way for districtwide innovation.

For Aaron Spence, the superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools, a digital transformation of the schools was a long time coming. Spence, a graduate of VBCPS, returned to the district to oversee a technology overhaul that began in 2014.

“We’re a forward-thinking organization in a forward-thinking community that really wants the best for its kids,” says Spence in a Discovery Education and School Superintendents Association case study.

In the past three years, VBCPS has undergone a digital evolution that offers lessons for other districts:

1. Establish a Tech Plan, with Pedagogy First

When Spence stepped in, he and his team outlined a strategic plan that would take five years to bring the district from BYOD to a completely digital learning environment. The first step of the plan was to ensure that the devices and digital tools would support solid pedagogy among the teachers.

“I think technology has the potential to be a game changer with what happens in the classroom,” says Spence in the case study. “But you’ve got to have great Tier 1 instruction that’s thoughtfully planned out by teachers and aligned with rigorous curriculum.”

2. Start Small with Tech Integration

To make sure technology was being used in significant ways, Amy Cashwell, the district’s chief academic officer, began to implement technology into the curriculum at a few anchor schools. Now, the district has 13 schools with one-to-one learning environments, IT support and instructional technology specialists.

“The idea has been that, through an intense focus in our anchor schools, we can shape some of those lessons about technology usage,” says Cashwell in the case study. “We can empower the non-anchor schools to move in the right direction alongside them and not wait around.”

3. Share Your Tech Achievements

As part of their mission with the anchor schools, VBCPS recently held a showcase of how students in the anchor schools are engaging with technology.

At the showcase, according to a blog post, Spence marveled at how, 10 years ago, barely any teachers or students indicated that they used technology in their classroom, but today at some district schools students use technology every day to solve problems.

Students in the anchor schools showed off their use of robotics, coding, virtual reality and digital storytelling. At the showcase, Spence addressed the educators that made these innovations happen.

“It’s not easy work. It’s a lot of thinking and wrestling with ideas as they come into being in our classrooms, and you’ve tackled that willingly and you’re making a difference,” he said.

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