Maryland School System Unveils Instructional Tech Plan

Carroll County Public Schools unveiled a three-year plan that calls for building the capacity of school staff through professional development, and preparing students for online collaboration and use of digital tools.

by Catalina Righter, Carroll County Times / October 29, 2019
(AP/Gillian Flaccus)

(TNS) — Carroll County Public Schools hopes to build more contemporary learning environments through a three-year instructional technology plan unveiled this month.

Goals include building the capacity of school staff through professional development, and preparing students for online collaboration, responsible use of digital tools, and building the skills they will need for life after graduation.

Members of the 37-person group that formed the plan presented at the Board of Education meeting Wednesday, Oct. 16.

Kelly Hammond, coordinator of instructional technology, said, “We did not look at defining the physical learning environment, but instead what we did was we looked at the learning opportunities that we wanted to ensure that our students had access to.”

A link to their presentation is included in the agenda for the Oct. 16 Board of Education meeting at carrollk12.org.

The group sought to pull in input from many sources, including the teachers advisory council, the Speak Up Survey administered in 2018 and the curriculum council.

In April, the focus group met for two weeks to pull all of this stakeholder information together and develop the three-year plan. It was designed to fit seamlessly under the umbrella of the school system’s strategic plan.

Suzanne Hafner, chair of World Languages at Francis Scott Key High School, presented on some of the aspects of the plan most closely affecting students.

She said she is excited that the technologies will allow her and her colleagues to “differentiate learning for her students and empower them to differentiate their own plans and growth.”

She summarized programs including Naviance, a college and career network for students; online courses that could allow students at smaller schools to access a larger class variety; G Suite for Education, a cloud-based set of tools from Google designed for schools; and digital dashboards that can help keep track of data.

There are two new dashboards ?— one is for the community. It’s a place to access information and data on CCPS such as assessments by the Maryland State Department of Education or access to standardized testing scores. It is organized in the four areas that serve as “pillars” of the school system’s strategic plan. (The pillars encompass opportunities for student success, family and community partnerships, successful workforce, and secure environment.)

Another dashboard is available only to teachers and administrators. PowerSchool Performance Matters Analytics displays student data. Teachers will have access to only students in their classes, and administrators will have access to only students in their school.

Throughout, there is also the aim of working with school administrators to work with the tech that already exists in the school system.

Professional development was one of the biggest focuses of the plan. Jeff Alisauckas, supervisor of teacher and leadership development, presented on some of the ways that professional development is part of instructional technology.

One idea is a digital leadership program, which identifies teacher candidates for leadership roles, implementing instructional technology at the school level, and shaping curriculum and leading professional learning across the school system.

The system wants to consider what pedagogy ?— or the method and practice of teaching ?— looks like in a contemporary classroom, Alisauckas said.

But the information technology team and staff development folks in CCPS cannot roll out the plan on their own.

Alisauckas said, “Five of us to provide professional learning on this huge topic to our workforce is just not manageable. [Digital leaders] are going to be key players in providing professional learning."

In a call after the meeting, Alisauckas stressed that is still in the developmental stages and there is no timeline set in stone. Looking for candidates is one of the next steps.

Training on the Google G Suite for Education tools started on Oct. 18. at Francis Scott Key High. A representative from Google traveled to Carroll to train administrators on the tools.

The G Suite for Education is a set of tools that includes apps such as Docs and Sheets, which are familiar in many career settings. It also has special education-focused features for things like hosting class discussions and submitting assignments.

Hammond said they hope to include it in instruction about digital skills and digital citizenship.

This doesn’t mean CCPS will stop using Microsoft applications such as Office 365. Students will have access to, and hopefully gain experience with, both.

G Suite for Education access will roll out for administrators first, followed by teachers and students. It’s not just like flicking on a light switch, Alisauckas said, and will take time to put in place.

During the presentation, Board of Education President Donna Sivigny said she was happy to see the plan built around more than just purchasing new devices.

“We could say we’re going out to buy more devices for the kids, but if we don’t build the capacity of our teachers and provide that professional development and learning, and we don’t build it into our curriculum up front of how and where do you use these tools within the curriculum, then having the devices doesn’t mean anything. It’s not going to improve student outcomes," she said.

Hammond said the school system is already maximizing the utilization of the devices it owns. Part of the instructional technology plan is making an implementation plan “for increased access to student devices,” she said.

“We know that when the teachers are learning how to integrate technology into their classroom, but they don’t have access to the device, it doesn’t become part of their instruction," Hammond said.

She added, "Procuring devices is not going to procure success. But we also know that the technology is very powerful and we do need to move forward in creating more engaging learning environments that do provide students those opportunities to develop those future-ready skills as well.”

In a later interview, Hammond expanded on that, saying more analysis is needed looking at devices. But the planners wanted to make the board aware that in order for the plan to be successful, it’s something that will need to be addressed over the next few years.

The presenters estimated that the biggest fiscal impact would be the investment in professional learning for staff, procuring more devices, and paying fees for subscriptions to the data dashboards, Learning Management System and content providers.

After the presentation, board Vice President Marsha Herbert said she was glad that underserved students would get the opportunity to build skills with digital devices that they might not have access to at home.

Hammond, in an interview after the meeting, said increasing equity is definitely a goal of the plan. She said another piece of that is professional development so that there aren’t gaps in learning opportunities for students from one teacher to the next.

Sivigny said at the meeting that it was exciting to see the plan after “dribs and drabs” of policy have passed through Board of Education meetings. “You’ve been removing some of the barriers that we’ve had, like with the social media policy and approval of apps,” she said.

Hammond told board members, “We do feel very comfortable that this goal is attainable and working together we’ll be able to reach the goals that have been set forth that collectively represent our community, our students and our staff."

Superintendent Steve Lockard said he was proud of the direction the instructional technology plan was headed.

“The most important thing we can do is build understanding and and develop people’s capacity," he said. "Because the last thing we want to do is go out and buy a bunch of devices or hand things out without having that in place. Because I’ve seen it across the country. It doesn’t work.”

©2019 the Carroll County Times (Westminster, Md.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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