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IT Trends | Feature

Referendum on Education Technology

A  K-12 district in Florida is ramping up efforts to get teachers up to speed on classroom technology.

But while some districts rely on IT staff to train teachers on technology and others turn to peer-to-peer training or outside resources to handle the task, Bay District Schools in Panama City, FL, is taking a more calculated approach to the challenge and plans to hire 15 technology trainers who will work one-on-one with instructors during the 2011-2012 school year.

Rallying the Voters (and the Board)
Bill Husfelt, superintendent for the 39-school district, which serves 27,000 students, said the initiative is being funded by a voter referendum that supported a half-cent sales tax. The funds are being used for school technology, construction, renovation and other capital projects.

Husfelt said the district attempted a similar referendum in 2009 and failed. "This time around, we put the technology component into the referendum and really pushed the need for equal distribution of IT in the classroom," said Husfelt. "It passed by a 4 percent margin, which is pretty good in this economic climate."

Thanks to the half-cent tax, all 39 Bay District Schools will benefit from a $30 million technology facelift.

Making that jump without supplying teachers with the underlying training and support would be a big mistake, according to Husfelt, who said he realizes that "many teachers just don't understand how to use state-of-the-art technology tools."

Intent on getting teachers up to speed, Husfelt said he worked with the school board to allocate $500,000 to pay the salaries of 15 technology trainers for an entire school year. "It was a tough pill for the board to swallow," said Husfelt, "but it's a necessary expenditure if we want to be able to bring in specialists who can train, lead and guide our teachers on how to use technology."

It took some convincing on Husfelt's part, but in the end the board approved the funding request. Currently in the hiring process, the district will divide the 15 trainers up based on the number of teachers working at each school. Some of the trainers may work with just one large school, while others may cover two or three institutions, said Husfelt.

Hands-on Training
The training will take place in the classroom, during the school day, according to Husfelt. "We didn't want to do this at night or on weekends," he explained. "We wanted it to be a hands-on experience that took place right in the classroom. We think that will help the instructors better embrace the technology, and the learning experience."

Working in both group and individual settings, Husfelt said the trainers will help the district's teachers integrate new technologies into classroom curriculum, install and use new software, create Excel spreadsheets, and make and upload movies online for instructional purposes.

To find trainers that would be a good fit for the task, Husfelt and his team posted a job advertisement on its site and then sat 30 applicants down with the school principals in a board meeting room.

"We did that to see how well the candidates dealt with large groups," said Husfelt. "We know teachers aren't an easy group to teach, so we wanted to see how the trainers handled certain situations and individuals."

The principals then whittled the list of candidates down to 15 tech trainers who will begin working in their new, full-time positions this fall.

"They are only going to be here for one year because this is a big cost item for us," said Husfelt. "After that, we'll reevaluate the initiative and see what we need to do."

Looking ahead to the 2012-2013 school year, Husfelt said the district may continue employing several trainers to work with new teachers and for any instructors "who just didn't get it the first time."

"We don't want to put $30,000 worth of whiteboards, digital readers, projection systems and software into a classroom and not have someone there to make sure the teachers know how to use it," he said. "That would be totally irresponsible."

A self-proclaimed "technology nerd," Husfelt said the tech trainers are just one piece of a larger, educational technology puzzle that isn't going away anytime soon. "Technology is here to stay," said Husfelt, "and we're short-changing students when we don't incorporate it into instruction."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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