Aug 30 2022

Q&A: Superintendent on the Power of Tech Partnerships in a Suburban K–12 District

Val Verde Unified School District’s superintendent shares exciting plans, opportunities and upgrades for his students and staff this year.

After a summer of tech upgrades and preparing for the new year, school districts are ready to welcome students back to classrooms. Across the country, urban and rural K–12 districts have overcome unique challenges to ready themselves for another tech-driven year of teaching and learning. But what about the districts in between?

Situated among the logistics and distribution centers of the Inland Empire of Southern California lies the suburban Val Verde Unified School District. EdTech caught up with Superintendent Michael McCormick to learn more about Val Verde USD’s plans for the coming year.

EDTECH: What does Val Verde Unified School District have planned for this school year?

MCCORMICK: We’re very thrilled to be in the beginning stages of a full replacement of projectors. We have about 40 80-inch interactive displays that we’re starting to place throughout the district.

Click the banner to discover more stories and advice on educational tech for the new school year.

Over the next 18 months, we’ll make a full conversion away from projectors to big panels located in classrooms. We design our classrooms to allow teachers to walk the room and wirelessly stream from their laptop, which folds into a tablet, via Wi-Di [Intel’s Wireless Display technology]. However, we’ve found several instructional programs where adding a second screen, which is interactive, adds a level of engagement. The students can directly interact with content on the screen, participate in collaborative group work and more.

We’re also very excited about new technology called Merlyn Symphony Classroom. Right now, we have about 25 of those devices located across the district with teachers piloting the technology. The Merlyn Symphony Classroom is an artificial intelligence-based technology, and it’s becoming a replacement for some of the old standby switching, where there are buttons located on a wall and a switch plate. We’re super excited about the possibility of this being scaled districtwide and giving all our teachers access to the technology.

EDTECH: I know piloting the Merlyn Mind devices has been a great initiative in your district. What makes Val Verde USD an ideal setting for this type of program?

MCCORMICK: One of the advantages of being a suburban district superintendent is that emerging technology companies are, in some cases, still working with proof of concept. So, they’ve got some great ideas, and they’re looking for districts with about 15,000 to 25,000 students where they can really develop and refine some of the details of their products and get real classroom experiences.

DIVE DEEPER: This new digital assistant for education supports teachers in the classroom.

EDTECH: What other companies have you partnered with to test emerging educational technology?

MCCORMICK: Over the years, we’ve partnered with HoverCam. We tend to partner with Google on things. Years ago, Google sent us five prototypes of Chromebooks, and we brought those into a fifth-grade classroom. We were able to do a Google Meet with Google engineers, and the fifth graders were able to share their direct feedback with engineers who were working on these Chromebooks. What an amazing opportunity for a 10-year-old, to be in direct contact with engineers from Google and provide feedback and to have those engineers really value the students’ opinions.

EDTECH: What challenges do you face working as the superintendent of a suburban school district?

MCCORMICK: There are times when I’m jealous of those really large districts located in urban centers, because often I read about their partnerships with businesses and nonprofits. It seems like there are a lot of people outside of the school system that are interested in the success of what those school districts are doing and who are willing to make investments through partnerships in those districts. We have 44 different pathways in the district, and we find it very difficult to place our students in internships, whereas I see superintendents from urban districts whose students seem to have more opportunities.

EDTECH: Are there any other upgrades you’re excited about for the coming school year?

MCCORMICK: This year we are replacing all UPS batteries throughout the district. We are using the new lithium-ion batteries, which should last up to 10 years, unlike the older batteries that only lasted three to four years.

This equipment helps provide clean and robust power to our entire network and ensures our internet, wireless, computers and phones stay accessible for communications in the event of a scheduled or unscheduled power blackout; during critical high-wind events, Southern California Edison will shut down the power for safety.

MORE ON EDTECH: Discover the benefits of lithium-ion UPS systems for K–12 districts.

We revamp our entire network about every five years per our E-rate cycle. This typically is in phases each year, such as all network switching over a couple of years, all wireless access points and equipment over a couple of years and this year, UPS batteries.

EDTECH: Our readers indicated that infrastructure upgrades are an area in which they need a lot of support. How does your district’s IT team manage upgrades like this conversion to lithium-ion UPS batteries?

 

MCCORMICK: It depends on what we’re doing. We certainly have some internal capacity, and we’ve invested in software and hardware engineers within the school district, so we can do quite a bit of work ourselves.

But when you’re talking about a large-scale implementation or infrastructure upgrades, we always look for those tech partners who can help us place equipment, hook up the new equipment and get us started. It’s those partners that really assist on these large-scale adoptions because even though we have internal capacity and we have a knowledge base, we don’t always have the amount of hands it takes, for example, to do UPS upgrades at 22 schools. When it comes to hardware, we probably rely more on the business partner we select for installation.

Photo courtesy of Michael McCormick

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