Schools’ tech set to improve

In the fall of 2013, a little more than four months into my tenure as Eagle County's Superintendent, we published a vision document called "Unparalleled Altitude: A Globally-Inspired Vision for Eagle County Schools." Now known as simply the Altitude Report, that document laid out a path for our community schools built on lessons from the best performing education systems on earth using a practice borrowed from business called benchmarking.

The Altitude Report contained some fairly straightforward, but too often overlooked (at least in the American context) approaches to building genuinely great schools. Foundational elements include such things as: professionalize and empower teachers; align instruction to high standards; engage the learner; mitigate the effects of poverty. None of these approaches are particularly innovative or ground-breaking, but in a state (and nation) always looking for the next Band-Aid solution or quick-fix, they somehow seemed revolutionary — as if we were turning in a completely different direction.

The Altitude Report was certainly built on lessons from established high-performers and "best practices," but it also contained elements we call "next practices," or innovative solutions that are still grounded in our core principles. Together, the ideas contained in that Altitude Report form the basis of our strategic plan, now an annual publication we call Altitude in Action.

One next practice and key component in our strategic plan relates to technology, and how we can harness its boundless access to information and opportunities for collaboration and creativity and use that to genuinely transform the learning experience for students.

    "For almost the entire time I’ve been the superintendent, our technology tactics have been stalled and stuck in neutral because we’ve lacked the funding and leadership to move them forward. Throughout the past few years, we’ve been operating on mostly a break-fix and status quo model — just trying to keep in operation the things we have. But with the passage of 3A and 3B, we stand on the precipice of a scalable revolution when it comes to technology in our schools."

Our technology strategy consists of four smaller sub-components, which we call tactics. Tactic 1 is about using technology to change the learning experience for students in ways otherwise impossible. Tactic 2 is about providing quality and state-of-the-art devices for every student. Tactic 3 is about creating a curriculum for technology, extending from basic computing skills and internet safety all the way to coding and more sophisticated computer science. Tactic 4 relates to making sure we have a technology infrastructure that can support all this work, both at present and into the future.

For almost the entire time I've been the superintendent, our technology tactics have been stalled and stuck in neutral because we've lacked the funding and leadership to move them forward. Throughout the past few years, we've been operating on mostly a break-fix and status quo model — just trying to keep in operation the things we have.

But with the passage of 3A and 3B, we stand on the precipice of a scalable revolution when it comes to technology in our schools. 3A will bring improved technology curriculum, teacher supports, and a 1:1 device for each student. 3B will bring up the network backbone to make all those devices hum.

Learning is about to get a lot cooler and a lot faster in Eagle County Schools.

3A and 3B are going to dramatically change things for the better, but we don't have enough funding all at once to accomplish all of our goals at the same time. We'll need to phase in what grades get 1:1 devices and rely on our existing computers on wheels carts, computer labs and classroom sets to help in the transition. We also have a couple of schools well along the way in this transition which we can learn from. Avon Elementary School was able to move to a 1:1 environment already thanks to a gift from a local philanthropist. Brush Creek Elementary School changed how it used student fees and the building's discretionary fund to move toward a 1:1 environment.

Yet another question in this transition is, what kind of devices should we get? PCs, Apple laptops, and Chromebooks all have inherent advantages and disadvantages we are weighing. For younger grades, tablet devices such as iPads are being looked at by a committee guiding this work. We call this 1:1 initiative Connect2Learn.

In no case do we expect to order a bunch of devices, toss them out to the schools, and expect good things to happen. We'll need support for our teachers, students, and parents on how the devices can be used to change the learning experience, making research, projects, assignments, and collaboration very different on the other side.

There are always risks to manage with an effort such as this, but I'm excited about the possibilities these changes will bring to our classrooms. Overall, the rewards far outweigh the risks.

In closing, we can't say "thank you" enough to the voters of Eagle County, who passed 3A and 3B. No one likes new taxes, but you should know that your dollars are already having a profound and positive impact on the trajectories of children in our community.

This changes everything.