West Virginia: Technology Leadership at the District Level: A Look at the Monongalia County School District
As the seventh largest district in student population in West Virginia, Monongalia County has the good fortune of housing the main campus of the biggest university in the state, West Virginia University. This major university collaborates with the community and Monongalia County schools to provide the high expectations and forward thinkers who promote the integration of technology in the K-12 public school arena. Unfortunately, due to the decline of the coal industry and the lack of major corporations, Monongalia County and West Virginia have limited financial resources compared to highly affluent districts across the country. Nevertheless, even with significant economic pressures, the citizens of Monongalia County passed a local levy that allocates about $1 million per year to technology. By leveraging these local funds with federal E-Rate funding, the school district is able to fuse its local funding resources with state funds, which are geared to specific technology initiatives. In addition, the local levy funds allow the school system to maximize local funding by leveraging numerous grant opportunities.
Focus on Technology
Counties in West Virginia also profited from the leadership of a forward-thinking Legislature and governor. In 1989, the state of West Virginia passed the initial legislation which provided for a turnkey technology solution that would begin the infusion of technology throughout the state's schools. With the emphasis on equity in funding throughout the state, the statewide technology initiatives (West Virginia SUCCESS, Basic Skills/Computer Education, and Telecommunications/Technology) and the county levy funds serve as the foundation of the county's technology implementation. Monongalia County has received more than $6 million in state funding to provide for infrastructure, computers, software and professional development. These state funds, coupled with federal E-Rate discounts, federal TLCF (Technology Literacy Challenge Fund)and EETT (Enhancing Education Through Technology) funds, and county levy funds, have propelled the county's ability to provide for technology integration to improve student achievement. Through the leadership of the county technology coordinator, the securing of competitive and formula grants has provided additional technology funding. For example, during the past two years, Monongalia County has received two EETT competitive grants administered by the West Virginia Department of Education Office of Technology. These grants, along with other state and local grants, have allowed the county and schools to accelerate meeting our state, district and school technology vision.
Fortunately, as visionary leaders, the Monongalia County Board of Education, the county superintendent and the community strongly support initiatives pertaining to technology. They also encourage the integration of technology as a seamless instructional component. The county's focus on technology includes the following three elements:
- An organizational chart in which the technology coordinator reports directly to the superintendent;
- A districtwide directive to the county coordinator to standardize hardware and software; and
- The leadership directive that the technology environment will provide equal access for all students.
Imperative in an educational setting is the strong connection between technology and curriculum/instruction. In Monongalia County, technology is not an add-on but a critical part of teaching and learning. Therefore, the primary focus of the Monongalia County technology coordinator is the improvement of student achievement.
The achievement of a shared vision and annual technology planning has been the driving forces through all stages of technology implementation. Technology leaders and planners from the school system have successfully built a collective county technology plan for all schools and the county. Historically, the county technology committee annually revised the county technology plan and met regularly to make decisions about implementation. In more recent years, the county schools annually develop dynamic school technology plans based on ongoing needs assessments and evaluations. Using the state-provided online technology plan template allows for the aggregation of data, the reports necessary for E-Rate funding, and a standardized format that combines the technology planning requirements of state and federal programs. The online plan template also integrates the school technology plans with the Unified School Improvement Plan. In addition, school and county planners integrate the Title I plans in collaboration with the technology plans. The leadership of the county's technology vision ensures that school and county goals center on high-quality learning for all students. At the county level, though equity is a central focus, the county must also simultaneously allow for a school's innovative use of technology, while meeting state and federal goals and guidelines.
The leadership role of the first full-time district coordinator, hired six years ago, and the needs of the district have changed immensely. The greatest need in the initial years was to ensure that the hardware was functional and efficient. Serving as technology leaders in the schools, each local school's volunteer technology contact and the district coordinator shared the technical support with the assistance of our Regional Education Service Agency. In more recent years, the leadership roles of the school technology contact and the district technology coordinator have evolved to that of curriculum integration specialists. The school leaders/specialists are either paid a stipend or are designated as part-time technology specialists/part-time content teachers.
The Monongalia County Office of Technology now consists of a coordinator, network specialist, and a technician I and technician II, all of whom work closely with the technology specialists at each school. With this additional technical support, the county technology coordinator and the integration specialists have been relieved of the responsibility for much of the computer repair and networking issues. Consequently, their leadership focus centers on helping other teachers to integrate technology into the curriculum and providing continued staff development.
'Teachers Teaching Teachers'
From the inception of our technology plan, staff development has been a crucial component. Early in the process of technology integration, the district embraced initiatives for teachers at each school to participate in technology training. This furthered the use of technology through teachers being technology integration leaders and role models within their schools and through the development of a cadre of master trainers using a "teachers teaching teachers" model. From this beginning, staff development for teachers, administrators and support personnel has continued to be extensive and a high priority. Knowing the importance of combining numerous funding sources, the county technology coordinator and school technology leaders have aggressively pursued funding from federal, state and county funds as well as competitive and formula grant sources.
The focus on professional development for school principals, who can serve as visionary leaders in promoting the integration of technology, necessitates the county's ongoing staff development and specifically designed summer sessions for principals. In addition, the West Virginia Department of Education received a $1.2 million State Challenge Grant for Leadership Development from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This grant aided in preparing the county superintendent and school principals for their emerging roles in technology. It also enabled them to become informed leaders who support and encourage the use of technology to transform student learning. This county and state focus on leadership training gives principals the tools to infuse technology into their roles as instructional leaders. One example of the influence of principals' staff development occurred immediately after a recent training on handhelds for principals. A significant portion of time was spent on curriculum integration; leading by example, county principals and school technology teams quickly added to school technology plans the idea to integrate a classroom set of handhelds as an effective tool to enhance student writing.
A shared vision and planning; solid leadership at all levels; a strong connection between curriculum, instruction and technology; equal access for all students; staff development; and always keeping student achievement in the forefront as new technologies emerge - these priorities emerge as the hallmark of Monongalia County's technology implementation.
This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.