Springville-GI stays tech-savvy with a national first place technology award
Linda Hoffman attended the conference, held in Boston, Mass. from April 21-23, as an area director for Area 1 of Erie 2 Chautauqua BOCES and as an alternate voting delegate representative from the New York State School Boards Association. She said she was “ecstatic” to see S-GI representatives accept the award.
“Fifteen years ago, I went to a technology leadership network conference and I came back excited and said, ‘We really need to do something about this!’” Hoffman said, and noted that she felt that she had done her part to implement technology in education.
“When I first started in 1981, the district didn’t even have a computer - no one did. They still taught typing in the classroom. Gradually, as computers became more user-friendly and Apple® began to introduce them as educational tools, I started going to workshops to say, ‘OK, how can we do this?’ Now, we have these little handheld devices,” Hoffman said. “It’s like living in a science fiction novel! We have computers in our homes, in our schools, everywhere we go. Looking at where we came from, it’s really cool.”
“The parent portal has individualized information. It has report cards, progress reports and attendance. It really creates accountability at all levels: students, parents, teachers and administrators. We are also focused on streamlining and making sure kids are having a similar experience district-wide,” DePue continued.
“We also keep the public updated: making sure the board documents are online and searchable. Superintendent Paul Connelly created the new Connections for Kids section this year to connect students with youth organizations in the community. We had live streaming of events, such as graduation and concerts, so that, say grandma wants to watch her grandson receive an award but can’t make it to the ceremony, she can see it from halfway across the country.”
District Technology Implementor Ben Higgins said that the district’s focus is on connectivity as both a convenience and a resource-saver.
“We really do connect beyond the region. We have the opportunity to do presentations and attend conferences and come back and refocus,” he said. “We’re trying to do more elective usage of documents: rather than paper, they can go online. It’s cost-saving. We also have remote access between buildings, so a technician can look at and address a problem through the network, rather than driving down. We also Skype® between buildings, which saves time, is more efficient and encourages communication.”
In the area of teaching and learning, S-GI uses technology to implement the curriculum, not going for the latest and greatest, but the tools that will enable teachers and students to work with technology to improve the learning process, according to DePue.
“The impact on teaching and learning is focusing on the students as producers of digital content,” she said. “They’re not just learning from it and with it. They’re using it and producing it. We have our students entering local, state and national contests and winning. We are really involved in some great things. We try to go above and beyond the traditional approach to education,” she added, mentioning a pilot program for using iPads® or other tablets instead of textbooks, for example.
Higgins said that the district administrators are always focused on the core curriculum, or the subjects teachers are required to cover by New York state law, and how to support it, using technology.
“Rather than looking at new technology and asking how we can use it, we are looking at the core curriculum and asking how can that be supported and enriched. A lot goes on with designing it to integrate technology. Another pilot is Bring Your Own Device and how to support that. What needs to go on with our wireless network [and] access points. We have to be strategic in technology and align it with education and the means of students’ continuing that process. We have to be strategic planners and make good choices,” he said. “Everything we use is aligned to the common core and is giving us our biggest bang for our buck.”
Saying that, because the next generation is often more technologically-savvy than its elders, DePue and Higgins both acknowledged the importance of balancing teachers’ knowledge with students’ enthusiasm and vice versa.
“It comes down to data and the whole curriculum. We are looking at open-sourcing, cost-effective, cost-saving technology that is part of our infrastructure and is sustainable,” said Higgins. “We look a lot at our educational design: keeping our staff honed and changing it to a level where students are an integral part of the class.”
“Everybody’s at a different point, and it varies by interest,” DePue explained, noting that Higgins’ work with implementing technology has been “essential” for S-GI. “We try to work with where [the teacher’s] interest lies. We do get pushback when it doesn’t work and that’s how we know how technology is infused in our district. We look at how technology is used on different scales and appropriate use, as opposed to unrestricted access.
“It’s hard to enforce,” she added. Some teachers are more open to technology use than others and we are sensitive to the issue of equity. Not every student is going to have access to this technology.”
Both individuals said that, as technology continues to advance, they intend to stay on the cutting edge. They have not done so and cannot continue to do so without the help and support of many different players throughout the district.
“We live in a different world today than 15, 10, even five years ago. It’s a challenging time in our district, but also a very exciting time,” said Higgins. “None of this would be possible without a common vision between the board of education, our business administrator, the superintendent, our administrators, colleagues and students who are always pushing us to do more, to do better. When you have that kind of support and that kind of unified vision, that’s how you get to the national level.”
From a regional perspective, Hoffman said that she sees S-GI as being ahead of the curve, but that New York state, as a whole, is still not at the forefront of the nation’s technological revolution in education.
“Kids are connected all the time now, 24/7. They’re connected to the world and then they come into the classroom and we tell them to turn it all off. We need to get kids to learn with these things. When they come to school and they are not connected to the world, we lose the ability to help them learn how to use these things safely, how to know information is from a site they can trust,” Hoffman said.
“I’m so excited that JoAnn [DePue] and Ben [Higgins] are doing this. If any district is receptive to these changes, it’s S-GI.”
More information about S-GI’s technological innovations can be found on S-GI’s website, www.springvillegi.org.