Ensuring 'Anytime Anywhere' Access in a High-Poverty District

In two years on the job as deputy superintendent of educational services for the Santa Ana Unified School District, David Haglund has helped usher in a new era of "anytime, anywhere access to learning." The high-poverty district, in which more than 90 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, is embracing BYOD as it emphasizes competency-based, project-based and blended learning. The centerpiece is the Advanced Learning Academy, a dependent charter school for elementary and middle school students that opened last fall with a focus on a high-tech, project-based and STEM curriculum. The district has also begun using Lightspeed classroom audio systems to allow teachers to be heard clearly and to be able to listen in on small-group discussions.

In two years on the job as deputy superintendent of educational services for the Santa Ana Unified School District, David Haglund has helped usher in a new era of

In two years on the job as deputy superintendent of educational services for the Santa Ana Unified School District, David Haglund has helped usher in a new era of "anytime, anywhere access to learning."

THE Journal: In what way do you see technology as a conduit to the goals you have for your district?
David Haglund: To me it's about the access the technology enables for students and teachers. Technology in and of itself is not enough. Many years ago, when PowerPoints first came out, people would get really impressed by the presentations kids put together, but there wasn't a whole lot of deep thinking going into them — they were pretty and had great pictures, but that was about it. What we prefer to talk about is the concept of utilizing various tools, both new-school and old-school, to support teaching and learning.

THE Journal: How do you see technology improving access in a high-poverty district like Santa Ana?
David Haglund: It used to be that poor kids didn't have the opportunity to go to school because they couldn't get to where the schools were, and now we often see that poor kids don't have access to the same resources that affluent students do. In today's world, you can continue to learn if you have the resources at home 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but kids in poverty don't always have that opportunity. And if we don't ensure that all of our students have access to the same learning opportunities that the more affluent students have at home, the academic achievement gap continues to grow no matter what we are doing in the classroom.

THE Journal: In the face of budget limitations, what's been your strategy to guarantee that access?
David Haglund: The first step was to rewrite policies to ensure that we are supporting open access and BYOD. Then we went about identifying those students with technology that they could bring with them, constructing the network in a secure way that allows personal devices to be used in classrooms, and then allocating our scarce resources to assist students who didn't have access at home. We also went out and met with 1,700 different high school students, talking with them about what works and what they would like to do differently. We learned about the devices they liked to use so that we could make sure students have access to tools at home and at school that are relevant to them, whether it's a full-fledged computer or a smartphone.

THE Journal: How does the Advanced Learning Academy fit in with this overall strategy?
David Haglund: In the Advanced Learning Academy, the students have multiple teachers and they move between rooms based on the academic goal they have for that particular day, following playlists the teachers built for them based on their performance the day before. Students move forward when they master the objectives in the learning pathway, with no arbitrary barriers that would keep them from moving at their own pace. It's project-based learning, and the subjects are integrated, so that when the project requires a skill that's dependent on the science concept, only then is the science concept introduced. And when you think of a competency-based learning environment like this, where kids are moving between classes and between grade levels as they demonstrate mastery of the content rather than when the bell rings or the year ends, the system has to be able to support their going from one place to another at random times.

THE Journal: In your meetings with students, what have you learned that has surprised you?
It's hard to say that I've been surprised by much of what I heard. I was a high school dropout — school didn't do it for me. So I know what it's like to be a student when the learning environment isn't in alignment with your passions. When we went out to the high schoolers in Santa Ana, these kids were saying, "Let us learn in the way that's meaningful to us." We asked them who [or] where they go when they get stuck on something — a counselor, a teacher, a friend or Google. I wasn't surprised that Google won. As much as I'd love to hear them say they go to one of their teachers, they can't always get to their teacher. So they've learned that they can quickly turn on their phone, Google something and get an answer for it. And yet, in the past the teacher might see them whip out the phone and tell them to put it away.

THE Journal: How did your own negative experience as a high school student inform what you do in trying to ensure that school does "do it" for the kids you're overseeing?
David Haglund: As a deputy superintendent, it would be easy for me to become far removed from the activities in the classroom and the concerns of the students. My own negative experiences with school keep me constantly aware of the importance of never losing contact with students. I can never assume that I know what the right answer is. So I spend a lot of time walking campuses, attending events and trying to stay connected with the kids. I give them my cell phone number and tell them if there's a problem, let me know. I don't get calls or texts, but they remember my name and the next time I'm on campus, students will walk across the quad and tell me what's going on.

About the Author

Dan Gordon is a freelance writer based in Agoura Hills, CA.