Bourbon County School District Principal Morgan Adkins (left) and CIO Wesley Tipton are championing four days of in-person class time per week.

Nov 15 2023
Digital Workspace

Technology Gives K–12 Teachers the Power to Teach from Anywhere

With teacher vacancies on the rise, schools turn to remote teaching to save the day.

Bucolic Bourbon County lies in the heart of Kentucky’s renowned horse country, so-called because it’s home to some of the world’s best thoroughbred horse breeders and trainers.

The county’s Bourbon County School District also has a lot to offer its 2,400 students spread out across six schools. It has a 95.4 percent graduation rate, a gifted and talented program, arts and athletics programs, dual-credit classes for college-bound students and so much more.

However, when neighboring Fayette County Public Schools raised teacher pay by 3 percent last year and an additional 4 percent minimum this year, the district took notice. With Fayette County now the highest-paying district in the state, according to an article in The Lexington Times, Bourbon County School District leaders needed to rethink how they would recruit teachers to continue their programs.

“What are we going to do if we can’t offer that type of pay?” wonders Morgan Adkins, principal of Bourbon County High School. “You’ve got to do something to incentivize teachers to choose us.”

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Bourbon County school leaders are banking on the idea that there’s more to a career in teaching than bringing home a certain salary, and technology can play a role.

So, Adkins and his team asked district stakeholders — teachers, administrators, students, parents and district officials — if they should pursue Kentucky’s District of Innovation designation, which would let the district offer one-day-a-week remote learning across the district.

“An overwhelming 98 percent of staff members responded, ‘Yes! This is a great idea!’” Adkins says.

District leaders believe that going partially remote will make it easier for teachers to do their jobs, reduce stress levels and improve their mental health. Adkins also believes remote teaching will level the playing field, allowing Bourbon County to compete with larger, better-paying districts to attract and retain educators.

“It’s an equalizer,” Adkins says. “We’re trying to think outside the box of traditional education.”

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Remote Models Meet the Needs of Teachers, Students and Families

Nearly three years out from the start of the pandemic, Bourbon County is one of several K–12 schools that are looking to expand remote teaching and learning opportunities for reasons as varied as their size, location or level of affluence.

In October 2022, the National Center for Education Statistics issued sobering numbers on teaching and school support staff vacancies: 4 percent of all public school teaching positions were vacant, and 26 percent of public school districts had multiple teaching vacancies.

Technology TOC

What does this mean for Bourbon County? More than 50 percent of district staff members have less than five years’ teaching experience, Adkins says. While the district currently has no teaching vacancies, in the 2022-2023 school year, eight teachers worked with emergency certifications. In the 2023-2024 school year, that number grew to 11.

“Will we have 15 next year?” Adkins asks. “At some point, you either throw up your hands or you dig in and figure out how we help ourselves, and that’s ultimately what we’re trying to do.”

While some states or districts now offer remote instruction to counteract teacher shortages, “I wouldn’t say that’s a motivator for us,” says Travis Drake, director of instructional leadership for Battle Ground Public Schools in Clark County, Wash. “The big motivator for us in terms of offering online options is really just to meet the needs of the students and their families.”

Battle Ground Virtual Academy is a predominantly online offering where in-building teachers instruct and support remote students using a more dynamic, higher-powered Chromebook setup.

Eric Wimbish
Giving teachers the ability to work remotely from home or even in other states allowed us to be more flexible and open things up more.

Eric Wimbish Executive Director of Technology, Clovis Municipal School District

Battle Ground’s other nontraditional options include online support for homeschooled students and alternative learning options for students who require greater flexibility to come and go, primarily completing their work at home on their own time.

“In our area, we have families that aren’t necessarily dissatisfied with our school district, but they have concerns about traditional public schools, and this would be an option for them,” Drake says.

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Ensuring ongoing access to the wide-ranging resources that opened up during the pandemic inspired Clovis (N.M.) Municipal School District leaders to seek out post-pandemic online options for instruction, Executive Director of Technology Eric Wimbish says.

As a rural district, Clovis Municipal also sees online instruction as an opportunity for students to gain access to teachers and subjects the district may not otherwise offer.

“Giving teachers the ability to work remotely from home oreven in other states allowed us to be more flexible and open things up more,” Wimbish says. “And that’s what most industries are doing and are being more open-minded about.”

Wimbish estimates that his district employs 10 teachers who work remotely full-time, and 30 to 40 part-time.

Each classroom uses Epson projectors, through which an in-building admin can plug in a laptop, allowing remote teachers to share content with students. Most teachers prefer to integrate the setup with Google Meet, Wimbish adds, because it’s easier to manage than other collaboration platforms.

1517 reported vacancies in Kentucky's public schools


Alternative Staffing Models Empower Teachers and  Help Them Thrive

As a professor of educational leadership at the University of Colorado Denver, Scott McLeod believes that using technology in innovative ways can reduce teacher stress and burnout. He’s also seen how re-energized and recommitted teachers are when they have flexibility in their teaching style and location, and when they are able to incorporate more technology.

He also believes hybrid teaching could be useful. “This idea that every single teacher must be a full-time, in-person teacher for six periods out of the seven-period day, with one period off for lesson planning, that model is dying in the corporate world and university world,” he says. “It’s still holding true in K–12 because of child supervision concerns, but we have opportunities to create some alternative staffing models where people can dive into specialization, part-time work, or remote work that would empower them and allow some of them to thrive in a different way.”

Bourbon County is close to breaking the traditional learning mold. It expects the state to approve its District of Innovation designation within the next several months. That would allow Bourbon County High School to pilot the one-day-a-week remote program in the 2024-2025 school year.

During that out-of-school day, students could focus on writing-intensive classwork on their Chromebooks, complete community partnership projects or connect with teachers via videoconferencing to discuss work in progress, Adkins says.

Teachers currently use wired desktops connected to ViewSonic Interactive Displays for in-person teaching. Inside and outside of the classroom, both students and teachers use Chromebooks and Google Workspace for Education and will continue to use them for remote learning.

“We’ve also discussed using ViewSonic’s myViewBoard as an instructional collaborative tool to help with remote and live instruction for those who may be at school as well as those who choose to be at home or work on the blended-learning day,” says Wes Tipton, the district’s CIO.

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Network Upgrades Unlock Online Teaching Beyond Borders

Each approach to remote or hybrid learning is as varied as a school district or its location. Wireless network upgrades were made possible through E-rate and the Federal Communication Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund. Those upgrades helped all three districts achieve the bandwidth and connectivity required to scale online instruction — sometimes even beyond their district’s borders — without interruption or dropped connections. Battle Ground recently replaced all of the district’s switches, upgrading to Juniper, and added ClearPass servers from HPE Aruba.

Bourbon County Schools upgraded the district’s wireless network in 2022, adding new Extreme Networks cloud-managed access points in each classroom and will bid out its core switch this year, to be purchased at an 85 percent discount thanks to E-rate funding, Tipton says.

“We feel like we’re in good shape now and can handle the traffic,” Tipton says. “We’re not even close to hitting our threshold.”

Photography By Jonathon Chi

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