Note: a condensed version of this interview appears in the Spring 2018 issue of our K-12 digest, In Session. We're pleased to present the extended interview online here.
With the shift to the classrooms of the future and the evolution of technology based learning, more and more school districts are looking at ways to modernize and renovate their facilities. When integrating 1:1 learning into your design, not only will you be looking at furniture and finishes, but the technology that goes along with it. LaBella’s K-12 Studio Manager Kevin Rademacher, AIA sat down with East Irondequoit CSD Chief Information Officer Joseph Sutorius to discuss 1:1 initiatives and how to successfully implement them.
Joe is a graduate of Hobart William Smith College and is currently in his 22nd year at East Irondequoit CSD. Prior to working in K-12 education he had the opportunity to apply his information technology skill sets in the banking, manufacturing, insurance and health care industries. Along with Superintendent Susan Allen, he has assumed a leadership role in guiding his school district on its journey towards digital conversion. Here’s what Joe had to say:
KR: When did the district decide to move to a 1:1 program?
JS: Spring of the 2012-2013 school year.
KR: What or who was the driving force behind it?
JS: I have to give all of the credit to our Superintendent Sue Allen. She had been attending conferences and tracking the work of other districts across the nation who had been pioneering this endeavor. We visited 4 districts within a year and had already formulated where we wanted to start. The very first district visited was Vancouver Public Schools and they were a member of a consortium of 997 districts willing to share their results of launching their 1:1 initiative called Project RED. They have written a book and outlined their findings that said if you have a thoughtful implementation you will see similar results to these 11 key findings, which include a reduction in paper usage, better attendance, less discipline, better student engagement, better performance on high stakes test scores, and so on. We came back and decided to do a pilot while continuing to visit other districts and gain additional knowledge as well.
KR: What were the initial steps undertaken?
BOE—once the board says yes, then it has to be all of your leadership
Teacher buy-in—if you roll out all at once, you will get push back. We decided to do a proposal process with all 312 faculty to gauge the interest and develop a core group. Our first pilot included 16 teachers and 300 students—today all 3,000 students have devices.
Community—we drafted a letter to the community and visited all the businesses in the area in person and received very supportive response.
Parents—we sent a letter from the superintendent every summer with a summary of our message and how the district was going to conduct business and instruction.
Budget—we knew we needed to a have a plan, and sustainable funding would need to come out of our operational budget, no special one-time funding or grants. From the get-go we showed our board what this was going to look like in terms of a commitment from pilot to full blown 1:1. We projected the number of devices we would need every year.
IT staffing—we needed more boots on the ground, and we increased our team by 2 during this implementation. Gates foundation and ISTE created a rubric on the ratio of devices to technicians which validates the need for staffing.
Finally, we formed a Digital Conversion Team and meet weekly to discuss pertinent issues and make decisions.
KR: How long was the transition period for full integration?
JS: In 2015/2016 we pushed out remaining devices to get everyone to 1:1. Grades 3-12 get to take devices home with parent sign-off, and grades K-2 leave them at school locked and charged overnight.
KR: What challenges were encountered?
BOE—we should have had a LMS (Learning Management System—a mobile friendly, web based portal) in place at the beginning.
Administration—we should have organized professional development for administrators sooner.
Teachers—there was some push back from aging teachers, and those resistant to change. Convince them it is not a fad, but a cultural shift.
Students—there is always that 15% that want to cause trouble. Protocols & mechanisms need to be in place to keep this in check.
Parents—before we installed a LMS, parents were concerned about students playing games
KR: What is your cycle for hardware replacement?
JS: Every 4 years for mobile devices.
KR: Do you audit the use of hardware/ software to understand student engagement?
JS: We use a lot of softwares that have metrics built in. We also use Worktime by Nestersoft that captures the amount of time that is spent in an application. We can generate reports by user, workstation, etc. to verify and defend the resources we are using and paying for.
KR: Do you see a spike of use of technology in the student population?
JS: Yes, across all grade levels we have stories of things happening that we didn’t think possible.
KR: How do you manage & audit all of the hardware within the district?
JS: The Deputy Superintendent and I will be presenting at ASBO International in September on this very topic of Fixed Asset Management. Asset Management is a bear, and you have to prove you did it right. Years ago we put an organized inventory into an application we could use on mobile devices—we bought portal bluetooth barcode scanners we could pair to our devices, and everything has a bar code. That made this more manageable, but we have 12,000 items we are tracking in our inventory every year. One piece of advice, don’t wait until June to do your inventory. We now use a rolling year to scan our equipment. If it’s scanned in July, we have a full year to touch it again. We have also used MAC addresses to identify all unique codes attached to the network and link to our database. We also use passive RFID tags on equipment to track anything we want. These advances have helped minimize the time spent on inventory management.
KR: Do students get involved with assisting your IT staff?
JS: Yes, we have a functional student help desk at the high school and working to tie it into the curriculum and give credit. Also working on this in the middle school. Going to be hiring a few to help out over the summer.
KR: What is your vision of the “new” classroom?
JS: Get rid of cables, mount everything to the wall where possible (teachers still want a teaching wall, so we are currently looking at new interactive white board), and use flexible furniture and finishes.
KR: What platform & hardware is the District utilizing?
JS: We use Cisco Networking & Wireless Infrastructure. Grades K-8 have iPads while 9-12th graders are each given a Windows laptop. We switched from iPads to laptops at the high school level because teachers felt we needed to better transition the students from high school to college using Office products.
KR: Do you leverage Capital Project funding to build the infrastructure required to support your technology?
JS: Yes, we do. With ERate and Smartschool funding out there, we are always going to use those funds first. When using operational funds 98% of the time we are going to BOCES for technology aid. We look to see what is on their approved hardware/software list before even going through our evaluation process.
KR: Can the build environment/furniture encourage the use of technology and improve overall learning?
JS: Definitely! We have designed technologies in for that purpose. Our teachers still buzz about the color blue chosen for the new classrooms of the future. They comment how soothing and makes them feel comfortable.
KR: How are instructors leveraging technology (inside and outside of the classroom)?
JS: Teachers used to work in silos in their classrooms, but now with mobile devices I see them in teachers’ lounges, libraries, in the main hallways collaborating with other teachers. We have also found they are still communicating with students with homework issues even after the end of the school day.
KR: What’s the best advice you would give a District that intends to move to a 1:1 program?
JS: Any of these items could slow you down or derail your effort:
Leadership needs to be invested (BOE on down)
Build realistic sustainable budget structure
Robust Wireless infrastructure, mobile device management tools, and appropriate levels of tech support
Device selection, management and logistics
Teacher and administrator professional development
Learning Management System
Most importantly, you need to build a core team to drive this work!
Digital Conversion Resources available (recommended by Joe):