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IT Trends | Q&A

IT Transformation on a Budget

Up until last summer, Jackson-Steele Elementary School was in the dark ages when it came to information technology. Serving 225 students in a community where the average per capita income is about $21,000, the Hayneville, AL, school had a few basic computers in every classroom, but not all of the equipment functioned properly.

The school's computer lab housed equipment that was about seven years old, much of it obsolete or broken. "We had a few LCD projectors, but no smart boards or anything of that nature," said Kimberly Washington, who came onboard as principal in 2008. "Pretty much our IT assets included a few class computers and a lab that wasn't fully functional."

Washington explained to THE Journal how she tackled the challenge of running a school with inadequate IT resources, and discusses the value of solid professional development and support for the school's newest technology investments:

Bridget McCrea: When you came to Jackson-Steele Elementary in 2008, what were some of the technology challenges that the school was dealing with?

Kimberly Washington: Having such limited classroom technology made it difficult for our teachers and students. When I got here, for example, many of our teachers were bringing in outside sources to assist them with teaching and to help students learn. Other than PowerPoint presentations put up on LCD projectors, for instance, they had no modern way of giving classroom presentations. The lack of technology resources was not only limiting for teachers, but it also meant that our students were unable to explore to the caliber of their true needs.

McCrea: What was your plan for tackling these issues?

Washington: During my second year as principal we purchased full-functioning computers for our computer lab. Once the lab was up and running, we purchase the Accelerated Reader, STAR Math, and STAR Reading from Renaissance Learning. This gave students the opportunity to go into the computer lab to read books, learn math, and generate independent assessments of their progress. That was a good start, and once we got the lab set up we began purchasing additional computers for the classrooms.

McCrea: How did you fund these initiatives?

Washington: At the district level, we relied on a few knowledgeable individuals who researched, wrote and won a School Improvement Grant from the Department of Education Appropriations Act of 2010. We used the grants to purchase the equipment and to pay for the professional development. Being that Jackson-Steele was a low-performing school at the time, the state of Alabama awarded the grants necessary to transform the school, and IT played a key role in that transformation. To deploy the technology, we worked with Information Transport Solutions (ITS), a provider of voice, video, and data services that's worked successfully with several schools in the state.
McCrea: How has your school's IT landscape changed?

Washington: With a per-capita income of $21,000 [among students' family members], many of our students aren't exposed to technology at home. We have to fill that gap, and we're doing it with [whiteboards], document cameras, classroom response systems, and a laptop initiative that allows students to check out computers. Next year, we'll move to a true 1:1 environment with iPads for every child in grades K-5. Our next step is to get district-wide Internet connectivity -- something that hasn't been easy to achieve, due to our rural environment. Once we get that connectivity in place, students will be able to take their iPads home.

McCrea: How did you handle professional development for the new technology?

Washington: Right now we're going through a rigorous, three-day professional development session on iPad usage in the classroom. Once that wraps up, the teachers will receive their iPads, and then they'll complete another month of training [conducted and led by ITS] on the devices. ITS also has IT consultants onsite, in our buildings, answering teachers' questions and troubleshooting problems.

McCrea: Have you run into any challenges during this overhaul?

Washington: As with anything new, you have some teachers embrace it and some who struggle with it. It's just inevitable. We've conquered this obstacle by providing intensive, one-on-one training; monitoring progress; and ensuring that teachers are truly using the technology to the best of their abilities.

McCrea: What would you tell a principal who is in the same position you were back in 2008?
 

Washington: If you're going to take on an IT project like we did, make sure you provide teachers with the professional development that they need before you actually expect them to be able to carry out the IT-related tasks. Also, as an administrator you must get the same professional development for yourself. Work along with them to learn the ins and outs of the technology; that's the most important step you can take.

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