Collaborative Technology Planning
The Impact of Technology Plans on Students' and Teachers' Learning
Technology is an integral part of Spring Branch School of Choice, an academic alternative to traditional high schools in Houston, Texas. Since we created our first Campus Improvement Plan, a detailed report identifying goals and activities for the following school year, back in 1995, technology has made a significant impact on our curriculum, teacher instruction and student learning. Our plan is more than a means to implement technology on campus. It is a vital tool for collaboration among teachers, principals and district administrators. It is an investment by the school and the district to enhance teachers' professional development and students' learning. It is also a way to provide alternative paths to success for our students. But like any good plan, a technology plan is a living, breathing document. It provides a clear vision and goals, yet allows room to grow and change as your staff and students do. To successfully plan for and integrate technology into the curriculum, both school administrators and teachers must be willing to look ahead, to let go of the way things have always been done and, most importantly, to learn.
An Academic Alternative
School of Choice provides curriculum programs to meet the educational needs of students who have not progressed or succeeded in their middle or high schools, and who are at risk of not completing the requirements for a high school diploma. The school is not a behavioral or disciplinary alternative education program; it is an academic alternative education program. It is one of six high schools in the Spring Branch Independent School District (SBISD) that serves a total of 31,599 students across 40 K-12 schools. A Title I school, School of Choice enrolls an average of 230 students in grades 9-12 at any given time and serves approximately 400 students during the year. Currently, the student population is 2.2 percent Asian, 12.7 percent black, 61 percent Hispanic and 34 percent white. Fifty-five percent of our students are female and 45 percent are male, while 20 percent are school-age parents (pregnant or parenting).
School of Choice also participates in the Alternative Accountability System, which provides a framework for instruction and accountability. This framework charges alternative schools to scrutinize traditional educational settings and find methodologies that work for students who are not succeeding in traditional schools and classrooms. The school enlists multiple instructional methodologies and tools, including many that involve the use of technology, to provide a full array of alternatives to prevent, intervene and recover dropouts.
Spring Branch School of Choice Eligibility Requirements
To apply for attendance at School of Choice, al students must meet the at-risk eligibility criteria for the state of Texas, receive a referral from their home school's principal, and attend an interview accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. The following criteria determine a student's eligibility:
- Two or more years behind in math or reading
- Not expected to graduate within four years of entering ninth grade, and has failed one or more courses within the last semester
- Has failed one or more sections of their most recent Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test
- Had failed one or more grades from first through eighth
- Previous or current dropout
- Pregnant or a parent
Teachers have played a central role in technology planning at School of Choice since 1995, the year the SBISD determined that all staff members would adopt a new way of doing business through e-mail. To help implement the district's vision across all schools, each school created a technology committee comprised of teachers, a technology coach and specialist, the school librarian and administrators. Initially, the technology committee's primary role at School of Choice was to create the campus' vision for technology using the district's vision as a framework. Today, the committee makes recommendations about the purchase and implementation of all technology on campus. If a teacher wants an extra computer or a particular software program for the classroom, he or she enlists the help of the committee. The committee provides the expertise needed to make well-informed and research-based decisions regarding the purchase and implementation of software and hardware.
The committee is a self-selected group of teachers. About one-third of all the teachers participate throughout the school year. The committee's primary role is to look at where the school is going with curriculum and instruction, and decide how and where technology should be used to enhance that. Each April, the committee begins planning for the next school year. They begin by reviewing the current year's technology plan and measuring the school's progress against its goals. The committee then presents its recommendations to the site operations team, a group of elected teachers who serve in an advisory capacity to the director (school principal). In May, the school finalizes and submits the Campus Improvement Plan to the district.
Although School of Choice is nontraditional, it is still very much connected to the district as well as its vision and goals. As such, staff development is a top priority in both the district's technology plan and that of the school. The primary thrust of the SBISD's current technology plan is to provide the preparation and support teachers need to effectively integrate technology into teaching methods and content areas to help students learn. Similarly, the No. 1 activity in School of Choice's 2000-2001 technology plan is to continue to provide staff development for all staff members in areas directly related to the support and implementation of instructional objectives, as specified in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills guidelines.
A big part of the school's technology plan and the district-level framework is the Learner-Centered Teacher Appraisal System. It was designed by a committee of Spring Branch teachers and administrators, and is used across the district. Its primary purpose is to enhance student learning through teachers' professional growth. Between August and October, each teacher meets with his or her supervisor for a diagnostic conference. Together, they develop two to three goals – top priorities – for the school year. The goals must specifically address how the teacher plans to increase or expand his or her own abilities, and how that will measurably impact student performance. One of these goals must focus on improving student academic achievement and be directly aligned with the Campus Improvement Plan, while another goal must focus on technology. During the formative process from October through April, the teacher's supervisor conducts walk-throughs, in which what is observed in the classroom and how the teacher is progressing toward accomplishing the stated goals are documented. In April or May, the teacher and supervisor meet again for a summative conference, where the teacher describes information and data that substantiate the accomplishment of the goals. The supervisor then provides a summary of the teacher's performance and that of the teacher's students.
Throughout the year, both the district and the schools provide an array of professional development opportunities to help teachers produce and expand their technology capabilities while meeting their individual technology goals. The district's Instructional Technology Training Center, housed in the Spring Branch Education Center, has five computer labs and offers training on a wide variety of technology tools and topics. In addition, SBISD provides each school with a technology coach who works one-on-one with teachers to help them integrate technology in their classrooms. Thanks to the training center and the coach, the teachers at School of Choice have made great progress toward achieving the second activity in the school's 2000-2001 technology plan: to increase the integrated use of technology, such as the Internet, Web design, graphic design, and presentation software throughout the curricula and in teachers' lesson plans.
The third activity in our technology plan is the continued use of NCS Learn's NovaNET system for online curriculum. The NovaNET system is an online comprehensive courseware system that delivers thousands of hours of standards-based, interactive curriculum with integrated assessment, student management and record keeping. It is an integral part of our curriculum and our commitment to provide alternative methods of instruction to prevent, intervene and recover dropouts. It acts as a personal tutor for each student and allows us to meet each student's unique academic needs. As students progress at their own pace, they receive continual positive feedback and instructive encouragement along the way.
The system's curricula are organized into units covering a distinct set of objectives. Each unit consists of a diagnostic test, a prescriptive pretest, several lessons and a posttest to confirm objective mastery. School of Choice uses the system to provide instruction in our core curriculum, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, and expand our curriculum to include courses and electives that we would otherwise be unable to offer in a small school. In addition, students may use the courseware system to do a credit recovery where they prove competency in areas of the curriculum without having to take the entire course over again. And because the curriculum is online, students may enroll in any course at anytime during the school year. At any given time, about half of the students take one or more courses on the system. From 8 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., School of Choice maintains a five-period bell schedule. During its day school, instruction on the NovaNET system is offered in two computer labs and on networked computers in classrooms. From 3:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., night school instruction is offered in two computer labs using only the online curricula.
Achieving Remarkable Results
The teachers' skilled use of technology and online curricula are greatly credited with helping students make remarkable progress. From the 1995-1996 school year to the 1999-2000 school year, the graduation rate jumped from 26 to 126 students. In 1997-1998, the year in which the NovaNET system was introduced, the graduation rate increased by more than 50 percent from 32 students in the 1996-1997 school year to 49 students. In 1999-2000, the year the night school was opened, the graduation rate jumped another 50 percent, from 84 students in the 1998-99 school year to 126 students. The school's dropout rates also improved, earning the school awards and recognition from the National Dropout Prevention Network. During the 1999-2000 school year, School of Choice recovered 28 dropouts, including 10 who had been out of school for more than a year. Of the 107 students enrolled in the school's tuition program, 99 earned the half to one credit necessary to earn their diplomas.
The success of School of Choice and its students rests firmly on the shoulders of its teachers. Through a collaborative approach to technology planning, the teachers have become intricately involved in every level of the decision-making process. As a result, they have gained the knowledge to make things happen with technology. They know how to gather around a table to tackle challenges, develop solutions and plan for the future. Most importantly, they know how to use technology to impact the curriculum, promote student learning and help students succeed. To fully integrate technology into the curriculum, it is critical that administrators provide ongoing support for teachers as they venture into new areas. Only through teachers' professional growth can student learning be truly enhanced.
Lea Ann Lockard is the director of Spring Branch School of Choice in Houston, Texas. She has a bachelor's from Angelo State University in Texas and a master's from Prairie View A&M University in Texas. She also has 24 graduate hours in career and technology education from Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi. Lockard is a career and technology certified teacher and holds a mid-management certification. In 1999, she was one of three educators in the nation to receive an individual Crystal Star Award of Excellence from the National Dropout Prevention Network.
This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.