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Academic, Tech Staff Team Up for Rochester’s 1-to-1 Rollout

By Denisa R. Superville — March 28, 2016 | Corrected: March 30, 2016 7 min read
Science teacher Corey Skinner, second from left, works with three students at the Rochester International Academy, from left to right: Saleh Saif, Abdiaziz Mahad, and Ali Al-Mansoor. Skinner worked on the district’s 1-to-1 initiative.

Corrected: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the Integrated Arts and Technology High School.

Eleventh grader Alexis VanAlstyne kicked off her shoes and plopped into a blue beanbag chair in the computer lounge at the Integrated Arts and Technology High School, one of four schools in a mammoth brick building that takes up nearly an entire city block.

Balancing a Dell Chromebook on her knees, VanAlstyne quickly found the shared Google document that she and four other classmates had been using for a social studies assignment on the lives of W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington.

Behind her, about a dozen 7th graders pored over printed assignment packets and Chromebooks for an algebra class. Others huddled in groups at small tables around the room, while some worked independently.

This 30,000-student district on the shore of Lake Ontario wants all of its schools to look like a version of the scene here at Integrated Technology within the next three years: a hub of activity, students taking responsibility for their learning, with teachers acting as guides.

To make that possible, the district is banking on an ambitious 1-to-1 computer initiative, which is set to start this fall and to continue over the next three academic years. At the same time, it is creating a suite of professional development courses to help teachers and principals radically change their teaching methods. To bring it all off, the district has been reshuffling and integrating its academic and technology teams to better blend expertise and responsibility for the effort.

One-to-one computing programs are not novel. But the education landscape is littered with examples of similar initiatives that have failed to live up to their lofty goals because of a disconnect between academics and technology. Rochester’s approach—including the phased rollout, experimentation with different devices in a variety of classes and settings, and working with the teaching and learning side around academic goals and digital curriculum—recognizes the district’s awareness of earlier pitfalls and attempts to avoid making similar mistakes.

Rochester School District

• Location: Rochester, N.Y.
• School System Size: 27,000 Students

“We really want to see a transformation in the way that the technology is utilized—as a way for students to synthesize knowledge, and to produce new knowledge, and to share their knowledge with the world,” Jennifer Gkourlias, the district’s chief of curriculum and school programs, said. “That, to us, would be the reflection of a true transformation.”

Pilot Effort

A small 1-to-1 pilot at four high schools offers a window into the district’s future. The program will widen in September, when six 7th-12th grade high schools will be added. Those students will be able to take the computers home the following year. Students in Pre-K-2nd grades will get more iPads and Chromebooks to use while on campus. Additional Chromebooks on mobile carts will also be added in the 3rd-6th grades.

Rochester first decided to move to a 1-to-1 program about four years ago, recognizing that the era of online testing was upon it and that technology had become an essential part of students’ lives.

The district, in which the four-year graduation rate hovers around 51 percent, also wanted to increase virtual and online credit-recovery courses, broaden student engagement, and help teachers who were already experimenting with blended learning and flipped classrooms, said Annmarie Lehner, the district’s chief information technology officer.

Having clear goals and ensuring that everyone knows the district’s vision are as important as choosing the device in a 1-to-1 program, said Michael Gielniak, the chief operating officer at the Michigan-based One-to-One Institute.

“Getting buy-in—real ownership—of that vision at all levels, and in all of our different segments is very crucial,” Gielniak said. “So, if every principal, and every teacher, and every custodian—if everybody shares that vision and the superintendent leaves, then the ship is going to continue to go in the same direction.”

Collaboration Is High Priority

Such an undertaking must be jointly owned by the technology and academic departments, said Tom Ryan, the chief executive director of eLearn Institute and the former chief information officer in Albuquerque, N.M., who is helping Rochester put together a professional development plan.

While the Rochester program started in the technology department, Lehner said that the planning has become a team project. (In a district where superintendents, top central office staff, and principals change frequently, Lehner has the longest tenure of any of the top officials working on the 1-to-1 program.)

Since she took over as the deputy superintendent of teaching and learning in August 2014, Christina Otuwa has restructured the teaching and learning department to make the collaboration between the academic and technology departments easier.

Last year, she appointed Gkourlias, who was then the chief of teaching and learning, as chief of curriculum and school programs, with other divisions in the department reporting to Gkourlias. Gkourlias also became the key point of contact between the technology and academic teams, Otuwa said.

On the technology side, Lehner is aided by the chief executive director of instructional technology, Glen Van Derwater, a former teacher and school administrator, and a team of instructional technology teachers, who develop professional development classes for teachers and model lessons for teachers on how to infuse technology into the curriculum.

Managing A Rollout

The digital curriculum focus group meets biweekly to monitor the 1-to-1 initiative.


Source: Education Week

Before embarking on the pilot program, a team from Rochester, including the principals and the teachers from the two pilot schools, visited the Miami-Dade district in Florida to study that district’s virtual and 1-to-1 programs and blended-learning labs.

Teachers in the pilot schools took professional-development classes that summer in basics like using Google Classroom and more advanced offerings like running flipped classrooms.

Designing Digital Curricula

Rochester has dedicated this school year as the program’s planning year. A digital curriculum focus group, made up of Lehner, Gkourlias, Van Derwater, directors of core areas—such as elementary education, secondary education, special education, math, science, and English-language learners—meets biweekly to review digital curriculum, assess the project’s progress, and plan professional development for teachers and principals.

See Also

Chat: Rolling Out a 1-to-1 Program: Rochester City’s Path
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The chief technology officer and the curriculum chief in an N.Y. district discuss how they are tapping the expertise of their curriculum, teaching, and technology staffs to plan a three-year rollout of a 1-to-1 digital initiative.
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Over two days in February, Ryan, from the eLearn Institute, and Kipp Bentley, an education technology consultant and former director of education technology at Denver Public Schools, met individually and in small groups with curriculum directors, the director of testing, instructional technology staff, media specialists, principals, and teachers for frank discussions about the district’s readiness for the program, training, and potential roadblocks and solutions.

Some principals, for example, said they, too, would like professional development on best practices so that they would know what to look for during teacher observations. One asked whether an instructional technology teacher could be based at the school once the program got underway. Others suggested setting up model classrooms that teachers could visit to see best practices in action.

Annmarie Lehner, Rochester’s chief information technology officer, said the planning for the 1-to-1 rollout started in the technology office but quickly become a team project involving the district’s technology and academic staffs.

Quality professional development remains an important priority in the planning year.

“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,” Lehner said.

Corey Skinner, a science teacher at Rochester International Academy where all of the students are newly arrived immigrants with limited or no English-language proficiency, was one of the teachers who helped develop Rochester International Academy’s 1-to-1 iPad program five years ago.

Skinner said that while many of the district’s teachers were comfortable with the technology, many needed additional support beyond online or in-person professional development. The district, he said, must do a masterful job of explaining why this new way of doing business is superior to the paper-and-pencil world.

Paying for Change

Funding is often a primary concern for many districts pursuing 1-to-1 programs, but Rochester is likely to avoid that startup headache because of a windfall from New York state’s Smart Schools Bond, a $2 billion voter-approved measure to upgrade the state’s education infrastructure for the 21st century. Rochester could qualify for up to $47.2 million.

Jennifer Gkourlias, the district’s chief of curriculum, said the Rochester system is working toward “a transformation in the way technology is utilized” in schools.

The district is still hammering out the application’s details; however, a significant portion of the money will go toward buying the computers. But because the district is relying on the Smart School Bond money, it means that with months before the rollout, the computers are not yet in the schools.

A major challenge is finding time for planning and collaboration between the two departments, Lehner said. Ensuring that the 1-to-1 program remains a priority, with a dedicated district funding stream, is something they must keep on top of, said Adele Bovard, the deputy superintendent for administration.

Choosing digital textbooks, or “techbooks,” that are culturally relevant has also been an issue, and the high number of students without Internet access at home remains a worry. (The district is working on a grant application to provide broadband Internet access in the city, but that will not be a roadblock to the 1-to-1 rollout, Lehner said.)

District officials remain optimistic that teachers are hungry and ready for the challenge. The students, Gkourlias said, have been ready.

Coverage of trends in K-12 innovation and efforts to put these new ideas and approaches into practice in schools, districts, and classrooms is supported in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York at www.carnegie.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the March 30, 2016 edition of Education Week as District Girds For 1-to-1 Device Rollout


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