In the ninth annual Digital School Districts Survey from the Center for Digital Education, owned by e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company, and the National School Boards Association, three school districts received top honors for technology integration.
Overall, the survey ranked school districts by student population in three categories, with at least 10 districts in each category earning recognition for their work. Survey questions and criteria examined and scored areas of digital and emerging technologies, such as use of mobile devices and technology integration into curriculum; leadership and transparency measures including board policies and meetings; strategic planning, data management and safety; and delivery models and professional development, including availability of technology tools and training for teachers and students.
In addition, districts were surveyed on their digital content and curriculum strategy, challenges they face in implementing online assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards; technology priorities, shared services and cloud computing; infrastructure and networks; and status of bring your own device (BYOD) implementations.
From technology coaches to digital curriculum, these school districts have embraced technology to help students learn.
In the small district category (3,000 students or less), first place winner Geneseo Community School District Unit #228 in Illinois turned two computer teachers into tech coaches this year. Instead of sending students to the computer lab for technology time, the district has regular teachers mix technology into lessons every week with the help of these tech coaches.
"They could actively use technology in the classroom and be productive with it and not have it be a separate little niche 35 minute period," said Technology Director James Roodhouse.
Some of the younger teachers don’t need much help incorporating technology into their lessons. But the coaches have been a tremendous benefit to older teachers who’ve been teaching for a while. In some cases, they come into the classroom to demonstrate a lesson so teachers can see what they’re looking for.
These tech coaches helped the district transition to about 1,000 iPads at the K-5 level. And starting with this uniform base of computing devices has made device management easier and cheaper.
Personally, Roodhouse prefers an open technology environment. Instead of locking down teacher computers, the district gives teachers full administrative access so they have more freedom to find and explore different tools.
And for Marietta City Schools in Georgia, a first place honoree in the medium-sized district category (between 3,000 and 12,000 students), an open environment for student devices has been important over the last year. Currently high school students use their own devices for learning in a pilot program that started last year and will expand to other grades in the fall.
To make this initiative possible, however, the district had to invest in a solid wireless network. That way, students and staff can access the network in any building on campus.
"When we completed having wireless access throughout all of our facilities, I think that opened up a breadth of opportunities for all of our schools," said Dayton Hibbs, associate superintendent, "and that was a very important step for our school district."
A solid network was also a key component to technology efforts at Roanoke County Public Schools in Virginia. The first place winner of the large district category (12,000 students or more) needed a strong network so that teachers and students could access digital content consistently with their devices.
More than 10 years ago, the district tried using digital content, but teachers just weren’t ready. Now, digital content has exploded online, and more teachers come into schools prepared to integrate technology into their lessons when it helps students learn.
Leadership, a long-term vision and continual professional development also have helped teachers get on board not only with digital content, but also with other technologies.
"You have to get buy-in from your people," said Superintendent Lorraine S. Lange, "and you have to go slowly and also make sure you sustain these resources."
Over the next year, these three school districts are planning Chromebook pilots, BYOD expansions and school safety initiatives -- and they're planning to continue down the path to successful technology integration for student learning.