THE Journal's 2008 Innovators :: 2

Lynda Gillespie
Chesterfield County Public Schools (VA)

Lynda GillespieStaff development for the nearly 7,500 employees at Chesterfield County Public Schools in central Virginia happens yearround. But often, says Lynda Gillespie, the district's director of technology, "folks are trained in what they need in the moment. We wanted to get them away from looking at the now to start looking at the future."

So seven years ago, Gillespie's team launched the Chesterfield Informational Technology Expo (CITE), a daylong event dedicated to introducing new technologies and sharing classroom success stories. The conference, which typically takes place in mid-August, has grown from 500 participants in that first year to about 1,300 attendees last summer.

The 2008 program included about 60 sessions and 50 workshops across every curriculum subject and operational function in the district. Even the custodians and bus drivers received attention. For the custodians, for example, there were sessions on how to use a database to track work orders. This year's conference also included an open house and "share fair" to show assistive technologies, and a track specifically for up-and-coming administrators such as assistant principals.

Says Gillespie, "If there's something new [in the district], it's usually unveiled at CITE." In recent years, that has included Edline, a resource to help parents monitor their children's academic progress, and a new data warehouse project.

Chesterfield County Public Schools

At the district's annual late-
summer expo, Chesterfield
County educators get up to
speed on some of the new
technologies they'll be
working with in the coming
school year.

Planning begins in January for the annual event. Gillespie's managers head up committees to handle registration, food, parking, and other event details. The conference is usually held at the largest and newest school in the district. Expenses, which total about $10,000, consist of advertising and printing programs. Gillespie estimates that 90 percent of the cost is covered by sponsor fees paid by the 40-plus vendors that show their wares at the event. In addition, the conference's catering expense is covered through a wellness grant issued to the district's benefits department.

Educators submit session proposals via an online database built by a member of the IT staff, and members of a program committee sift through the submissions to determine the schedule. Most of the presentations are given by teachers who have used a particular technology and, says Gillespie, "have done exciting things in the classroom, but never have the opportunity to share. It showcases them."

By the end of the day, says Gillespie, "there has been a whole lot of networking, a lot of camaraderie. People are feeling good, they're excited. They're learning new things. It's an excellent way to begin the school year."

Jim Nelson and Kristen San Juan
Richardson Independent School District (TX)

Richardson Independent School District

Richardson kids use
graphing calculators.

When students in Texas' Richardson Independent School District moved up from sixth grade to junior high, something alarming would happen: Scores on the math portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) would fall. In addition, the achievement gap between the general student population and certain segments of it, such as economically disadvantaged students, continued to widen. To figure out what remedies could be tried, then Superintendent Jim Nelson reached out to nearby Dallas-based Texas Instruments.

According to Kristen San Juan, then a math teacher in the district, seventh- and eighth-grade math classes were already using TI-73 Explorer graphing calculators, but they were simply handed out to teachers. It was up to each teacher to figure out how to apply the devices in the classroom. "There was no instruction on what you could do with them," San Juan says. "They have so many valuable teaching functions, not just 10-key arithmetic."

Nelson believed there could be a systematic approach to addressing students' needs, so he and his leadership team went to work developing a solution with Texas Instruments. For all of 2004-2005, the district and the computer industry giant collected and analyzed data, eventually developing MathForward. The program combines TI technology with improved instructional practices, continuous assessment, professional development, and 100-minute "power block" class periods.

MathForward was introduced at Lake Highlands Junior High School, where San Juan taught and was the math department chair, and which has a large number of students from low-income families who are on the losing end of the achievement divide. The program was soon expanded to all of Richardson secondary schools. Since the expansion, San Juan has taken on the role of districtwide program specialist, helping with implementation. She has seen the impact MathForward has in the classroom, and especially the importance of the training provided to teachers on how to use the graphing calculators and incorporate them into math lessons. Teachers can now monitor the work students are doing on the calculators through TI-Navigator, a wireless classroom collaboration system. When a student is struggling, the teacher can send help via a text message, or head to the student's desk for one-on-one tutoring.

Were the devices removed from the lesson, San Juan says, "the math would still be there, but the level of engagement and discussion would decrease. It would go back to the same five kids who would always answer."

Nelson left the district in 2006, but the program he helped devise and launch is thriving. Average TAKS math scores for students in seventh grade have risen 13 percentage points since 2004, and eighth-grade scores have improved by 19 points. And according to Patti Kieker, deputy superintendent, the district has successfully started closing the same-grade distances between some student populations. As an example, she notes, "Grade 7 students have moved from a 15-point gap between all students and economically disadvantaged students in 2004 to a six-point gap in 2008."

MathForward has also proven to be a boon to middle school teacher retention, San Juan says. "There is a level of investment at the beginning, but with enough patience and endurance the results are huge. You'll see teachers say that they never want to teach any other way again."

Kyle Lowry
Northview High School (CA)

Kyle LowryWhen administrators at Northview High School in Covina, CA, wanted to set up a learning intervention program, they turned to former student Kyle Lowry. Lowry, now a part-time project coordinator at the school as well as a full-time college student, had previously created the Academy Book Search, the school's web-searchable database of books. Here he was being asked to create something more ambitious: a system that would manage scheduling and grading for a schoolwide peer tutoring program.

The result of that effort is the Intervention Management System, located on the school's educational resources website, Education Connect (see screen print). Using the IMS, teachers refer candidates for tutoring by submitting their student ID numbers, along with what they need help in and relevant test scores. The process of referring a student, Lowry estimates, can take only 10 minutes.

To give students an extra period to study or receive tutoring-- and teachers time to attend their professional learning communities-- Northview switched to a seven-period model. After students are recommended for tutoring, they come to the library one period a day for a week. They are tutored in groups by volunteer student tutors, who have received three weeks of training in library skills, instructional strategies, and technology such as Thomson-Gale Cengage Learning research tools, the school's Academy Book Search, and Blackboard learning tools.

Northview High SchoolThe staff and tutors are able to focus on helping students because the IMS automates many arduous tasks, such as producing the tutoring roster, maintaining progress reports, and keeping track of statistics. The system uses the open source MySQL database on the back end, which performs a weekly batch process to pull schedules from the district's student information system, Eagle Software's Aeries, and plugs them into Education Connect.

When the program initially started in 2006-2007, enrollments were low. Lowry says that the bustle of the new year-- new classes, PLC meetings-- got in the way. "Nobody likes change," he says. "But students started looking at intervention positively, and the teachers picked up on that. That's when our enrollments increased and teachers started to be more careful about the types of assignments and quizzes they'd have the peer tutors cover with the students."

Now participation averages about 120 students a week, though sometimes enrollment spikes into the high 200s. The population of student tutors has also risen, from about 40 to about 70.

The overall improvement score across all Northview students who have received tutoring is roughly 21 percent, Lowry says. That average is calculated based on the difference between student assessment scores derived before and after tutoring. The library has also seen more traffic from students, who are increasingly using it as a resource.

"If you want intervention programs to work and be responsive, you need to use a digital system," says Lowry. "And it has to be more sophisticated than an Excel spreadsheet. As far as pedagogy goes, teachers tend to know what they're doing. The most difficult thing is handling the logistics."

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2008 issue of THE Journal.