Published Online: April 1, 2016

Rochester City Schools' 1-to-1 Technology Initiative: Photos and Audio

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View more photos from this story, and hear Rochester City schools’ chief information technology officer, chief of curriculum and school programs, and assistant superintendent for administration discuss the challenges of implementing a 1-to-1-technology initiative:

Photo Gallery

Audio Interview

Partial transcript of the interview with Christiana Otuwa, Deputy Superintendent Teaching and Learning; Adele Bovard, Deputy Superintendent, Administration; Jennifer Gkourlias, Chief of Curriculum and School Programs; Annmarie Lehner, Chief Information Technology Officer, edited for clarity, below:

Education Week: As you know, we're looking at the collaboration between the academic officers and the CIO's office as they roll out a new initiative. Here in Rochester we’re looking at your 1-to-1 program. Can you describe for us the plan and the components of that plan? I believe you said that you were planning for a three-year roll out?

Annemarie Lehner, Chief Technology Officer: We already today have six 1-to-1 schools. But the students in those schools do not take the technology home. Those are primarily in our high schools. We are going to start next school year ... at the lower grade levels, and complete the majority of the high school. We're going to do Pre-K through 2nd grade. At the same time that we're going to work on the 9th through 12th grade. Pre-K through 2nd grade will be adding devices to the classroom. We have ten total devices that will be going into each Pre-K through 2nd grade classroom. Pre-K through 1st grade, they will be a combination of iPads and Chromebooks, so that the students have the experience of both touch and using a mouse. In the 2nd grade classrooms, it will be ten Chromebooks to get them ready for the 1 to 1, which will come in 3rd grade. That will be all next year. We have some technology in those classrooms now; we'll be expanding on that, to those ten devices.

At the same time, we're going to be working on the 9th through 12th implementation. We're still completing the actual rollout plan for the remainder of the schools, but it will be over a three year-timeline. We'll roll all the technology out, and the professional development.

Education Week: Anne-Marie mentioned your plan has three arms: device, digital content, and professional development or the professional aspect of it. I think everyone at this table represents one [of those aspects.] I was wondering if you might all be able to talk about what role your department is playing in this and how you are collaborating on these three different components?

Jennifer Gkourlias, Chief of Curriculum and School Programs: The teaching and learning department has been meeting with the IT department and having formative ... input conversations. As late as last week we had a presentation from some digital content providers...Traditionally, we would have adopted a textbook. We would review curriculum and we see what material, resources, we would bring forward to match up to that particular curricular course design.

With the digital transformation, it accelerates that process. It makes it such that people have to not only be looking at the curriculum but also the instructional materials that would resource that and if you’re transforming the platform from a traditional textbook to a digital platform that brings with it a whole host of new but also exciting challenges in terms of monitoring the type of content that students might access, and we've been discussing, from a cultural relevancy standpoint, if you are giving students access to online, how do you vet [it]? It brings out all new challenges. How do you vet content and make sure that it is appropriate, and that it is research- based, and that it is authentic, and juried, and all of those things? So we're really crossing all of those bridges at the same time.

Education Week: How are you dealing with some of the challenges that you have [encountered]?

Gkourlias: Our department is actively engaged with the curriculum council. This council has been active for almost one full school year ...We have representatives from the administrators' union and the teachers' union who are collaborating on the agendas for that meeting and looking at what priorities for curriculum and instruction we want to bring forth collaboratively. The lens that the curriculum council brings is how to bring standards for identifying when curriculum review should happen, and when it will happen, and also bringing in the appropriate resources and materials.

The process would be for the curriculum council to vet content as it becomes available if we're using digital content, for example, and also to ensure that we're doing it in such a way that it is aligned with the values and the cultural needs are recognized.

Adele Bovard, Deputy Superintendent, Administration: As Deputy Superintendent of Administration, there's really two sides of the house. The mission critical of any district is student learning; so we all keep that in our sights, and we're all unified by that mission to have our students succeed, grow, learn, thrive, and be prepared to be good citizen as they graduate from our schools. The thing that I am most concerned about with this initiative is that it is grant funded at the moment, and as a systems person we have this influx of resources with the Smart bond monies, and knowing the budget like I do, how do we make things sustainable?

How do we sustain these resources and plan for the future even while we're getting this influx of resources? What can we do as a district to be smart about how we expend our finances now and set in place a system that will sustain for students with the digital influx?

I think that we're working on a couple of initiatives. We can't do this just within the school so we are actively networking with our community, with the city of Rochester, with our foundations, talking about digital literacy, talking about the importance of city WiFi, which is another initiative we're heavily involved in with the community because it is going to take this whole village, this whole city to get behind this kind of transformation. That will then really parlay to our students’ success.

On the human resource side, I think that it is really important that we use this as a screener. This digital literacy, use it as a qualifier when we look for teaching candidates.

Lehner: If I could just add to the professional development... We know [that] without the professional development for our teachers and administrators there is no sense in putting all of this technology out there if the teachers don't know how to utilize it effectively in order to change their teaching practice. We know that where we are today as a district, we can't remain where we are today.

We're ripe for a change. We must increase our student achievement rates, and so by embarking on this, we are hopeful that this will increase student engagement and better prepare our students for college and careers after their education experience in Rochester.

The professional development is going to be an absolute necessity and what that is going to require is funding resources, which are not part of the Smart School's bond funding so we must allocate and make certain that we hold that funding as a priority for the professional development. It's also going to take coordination because we must be able to have time with our teachers to provide them with this professional development training.

Education Week: If I were to walk into [a] random school how are you using technology right now and when you have the phase-in, in three years, how will your district be different? What do you imagine?

Lehner: I think that as you go through our schools you see a big variety right now. You'll see some teachers very comfortable and everyone has a SMART Board in their room. Yet some teachers are using it so exponentially so much more, in deeper ways, than other teachers may be using it just sort of as that white board application. You'll see varying degrees in the teaching, but you'll see students being universally more comfortable with the technology that they have. When you go into a classroom, and you see the application of the Chromebooks, I am impressed with the level of differentiation that can happen with students because a teacher is so much more comfortable when every student is engaged on that device allowing students to really follow their path and differentiate in strand where their interests are, where their abilities are, and when you go into a school that has a cyberlounge or a school that has OCR lab, you'll see lots of good engagement. And I agree right now we have it sort of in different phases so that’s the goal and the challenge as we go through with this implementation. How do we get to a standard expectation as a district.

Education Week: OK, I just want to go back to the question I actually had earlier on but didn't ask. What problem were you trying to solve when you started this initiative?

Gkourlias: The goal we had in being able to transform our district is to be able to give every child equal access and not have access to Wi-Fi, for example, be a barrier or a default for why we don't use Google Classroom or why we can't have the whole class on an e-book. This project is really ... removing all excuses to and all barriers to be able to say "Wi-Fi is no longer an issue, access is no longer an issue" so that we can move forward, and have no more excuses about why we are not presenting content in this way, why we are not engaging students through technology. So for us, I think the biggest thing would be it's just removing barriers, and making sure that this community is meeting students in the modality that they prefer to learn in, and that they are going to be expected by employers to learn in, and perform in. This is the world, this is how it is, and it's really about helping students have access.

Lehner: If I could add it's also one of our other goals is really about choices, providing our students with options. Right now our students have limited options where they take a course that is required for graduation they may fail the course. If they fail the course, sometimes they fail the course twice. They will have the option of taking that course through an online credit recovery course to recover the credit but why are we waiting until they fail the course to offer them another alternative. Perhaps that child, who may be 19 or 20 years old, doesn't want to sit in a class at all and they want to take the course online. So I think that offering options to our students is very important.

Having a suite of online courses to be able to offer to our students for all required courses not just if they fail the course first but to offer that upfront as an option. Also, it’s really about student engagement. Student engagement levels when we walk into classrooms where the teachers have integrated the technology, when we walk into the schools that are 1 to 1 or the teachers are perhaps sharing a Chromebook cart between two classes, so the students 50 percent of the time have the use of that technology, and the teachers have embedded that into their classroom delivery. You see those students so absolutely engaged; where[as] if you walk into the traditional classroom where the rows of chairs are facing the front of the room, you see some of the students falling asleep. The engagement is much less. I mean I don't think that there is anybody that could dispute that. So student engagement, choices, and equity, as Jenn explained-- I think that those are all goals of ours.

Education Week: I guess I am hearing student engagement, increase teacher practice, I am not specifically hearing academic improvement.

Lehner: Why we're doing any of this is ultimately to improve our student achievement. Do we think that by implementing 1 to 1 tomorrow or next year, that that's automatically going to go on the rise? No, we're not that naive. We know it's going to take time for this to actually be implemented authentically. It's going to take time for our teachers to learn about this new modality of delivery and delivering instruction. We are right now hovering around a 50 percent graduation rate. That is not OK. We recognize that that is not OK. We know that we are ripe for change, and we have to make big change, and so we are really looking at not just a digital shift but a digital transformation. We want this to transform the educational experience for our students. With the ultimate goal of increasing student achievement and success.

Education Week: Are there other results that you've seen from the pilot that are encouraging?

Lehner: We have some results from our virtual program ...The virtual courses that we offered were Advanced Placement courses. ...We saw that the students who took the Advanced Placement courses in a virtual environment, as compared to the students who took Advanced Placement courses in the traditional environment scored one 1.5 points higher on the Advanced Placement exam at the end of the year. So we were very encouraged to see those results... As you know the ratings are from 1 to 4, so a 1.5[point] increase on that exam is significant.

Education Week: Did you have any challenges with the infrastructure or anything?

Lehner: Actually, we have been preparing for this for quite some time so our infrastructure is pretty solid. We have had wireless environments in all of our schools for the past five years. We just need to expand and increase the density of that, but we're planning for that so I don't really see that that is a barrier. The thing that I think has been a challenge is time, it's finding the time — finding the time and committing that time for the very necessary planning [and] collaboration with all of the different areas in order to make this successful. It does take a commitment, and it is very difficult for everyone because they all have full plates already and so this is something that is in addition.

Bovard: When I think about sustainability, the challenges that come to mind are two things: the resources to sustain the work and the policy to sustain the work. We've talked about the budget, we've talked about how we can take some control and be very strategic in our purchases and try to plan for that sustainability. We're going to need some help in the state aid milieu. We're going to need our state legislators, our federal legislators to understand this digital transformation and create polices and structures that will allow us to work with it in the future. I have some hope and optimism in some of the things that I am reading with the Every Student Succeeds Act and how states now have more flexibility within this year and next year to plan their response. I see our state really looking at different pathways for students and pathways that can include the use of technology to demonstrate what they know and will be able to earn their degree in that way.

I think we're living at a real pivotal moment, and this all really needs to come together with clear understanding of what can be done and with a clear path forward to understand what is it going to take to really implement this change, sustain this change, and allow the creativity of schools when they use technology to be able to structure students into that job and career milieu with ease.

Lehner: If I can add one more thing that really came to mind with what Adele mentioned about state and legislation changes. Something that is very real for any urban district that we all face is really what happens when the students go home? Where is the equity when they go home? That actually paused our 1-to-1 planning for several years as we tried to tackle that first because we said that it's not fair when our students go home, even if we provide them with a device, they don't have the internet access. Where suburban districts talk about BYOD, bring your own device to school, urban districts talk about 1-to-1 initiatives. We must provide our students with that device in order to be equitable. That has been something that we have been tackling, and I think that is something that is getting a lot more attention now at the state level and at the federal level and is being recognized.

Education Week: Any advice for districts that are thinking about this?

Lehner: Districts must set aside time for planning. This must be something that is supported from the very top level of the district in order for this to be successful, because it takes a commitment of funding, time, and if you don't have those in the initial it is really going to be difficult to be successful. I think that the sponsorship and the leadership at the very top level is a must in order to be able to move forward with any kind of digital transformation in any district.

Bovard: And it's also important to have someone so skillful with technology in the district. Ann-Marie has been here a long time. She's led a lot of this work and I think that coming new to the deputy roles, we are smart enough to support her in her work and get behind her work so that we can see this really happen in Rochester.

Source: Denisa Superville | Design & Visualization: Margaret Lovey Cooper
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