Sylvia Charp Award Judges Talk

Sylvia Charp Award judges Anita McAnear and Therese Mageau spoke to T.H.E. Journal about the way in which this year's award winner was picked out of a very strong field of nominations.

Representatives of the Vail Unified School District (AZ) were on stage during the June 26 opening session of the annual meeting of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in Philadelphia to receive the Sylvia Charp Award, given each year by ISTE and T.H.E. Journal to the K-12 district that demonstrates the most innovative use of technology.

The presentation was the culmination of a nearly yearlong selection process. The competition judges, ISTE Acquisitions Editor and Program Chair Anita McAnear and T.H.E. Journal Editorial Director Therese Mageau, spoke to Executive Editor Michael Hart about the program.

What kind of projects or programs should districts consider when they're thinking about nominating themselves for the Charp Award?

Therese Mageau: The applications Anita and I found the most impressive were those where the effort was truly systemic. Some individual programs might have been excellent, but the applications that really impressed us were the ones where a technology-enhanced environment was built into everything they did.

Anita McAnear: Yes, systemic is a key word. With the applications that really stand out, every single component is so well documented and taken into account.

Is there anything in particular that the highest-quality entries have in common?

Mageau: A big thing was the superintendent's letter. You could tell right away the districts where the superintendent gets it and the ones where the superintendent doesn't.

I know the Vail Unified School District won the award this year, but can you tell me a little about some entries you might have considered close seconds?

McAnear: In the end, it came down to two districts. It was difficult because the thing they had in common was that both of them had programs that were replicable in other districts and both were teacher-driven.

Mageau: Yes, the teacher was such a big part of it. With all the best entries, the teachers were deeply involved in the innovation, and a lot of the time that's not the way change happens in schools.

Were you surprised that the winning entry came from a relatively small rural area rather than from a district in a larger city or suburb?

Mageau: Not at all. Some of the most innovative applications were from rural areas. Rural schools have tremendous challenges and the ways that they have overcome them are instructive to districts everywhere. In fact, we're going to be doing some stories in future issues of the magazine about some of those rural schools that applied for this award.

Still, you had to pick a single winner. What was it about Vail's application that really stood out?

Mageau: We really liked the incredible work they do to disseminate this to other districts in Arizona—and beyond. There is incredible outreach going on there. They may be rural, but they are not isolated at all.

McAnear: Another thing is that they really did a good job of pulling all the evidence together, which can also help them no matter what in their own advocacy efforts.

Their own advocacy efforts? What do you mean by that?

Mageau: School districts need to get their stories out there. In the coming months, we will take many of the stories we learned about here and they will show up in the pages of our magazine. You're in a much better position to advocate on your own behalf if you have gone through this exercise. Even when schools weren't winners, they were winners.

There are plenty of awards programs in the world. Why is this award so important?

McAnear: Because it's at the district level. It doesn't depend on just that one fantastic teacher, the one who seems to always be able to do anything.

If a district feels like they have a great project but didn't win this year, should they try again next year?

McAnear: Oh, yes! A major project is a three- to five-year plan. If they're in year one or two, it's great to enter the contest and start writing about it. Maybe you might not win, but you've got a good start on the next year.

Mageau: We'll be putting out a call after the beginning of the year, and there's another chance for districts to get the good news about their programs out there.