Friday, February 19, 2010

ARRA Grant Offers Hope for Closing Digital Divide.

Normally, I don’t get too excited about grant funded initiatives. My experience has taught me grants can be at best a temporary boost to a program, but more likely to put it mildly, they become an unbearable burden not worth the time and effort it takes to administer them. The ARRA grant our district has been awarded is different. I am excited and hopeful that the technology integration specialist we have hired, albeit for only the 18-month duration of the grant, will help us establish the sustainable momentum we need to make lasting changes, ultimately laying the ground work for greater success for all of our students.

Our district is small by urban and suburban standards. Two schools currently serve fewer than 1000 kindergarten through tenth graders and we’re different than many districts in that, while we are a public school district, we are not supported by local property taxes. And no, we’re not charter schools either. We’re a district created and maintained by the MN State Legislature and the ten or so districts from which we draw our students. This structure poses some unique challenges, but every district faces its own set of challenges and these days most of these have to do with trying to the best they can with limited resources. Suffice it to say, our district has never been able to fund a district-wide technology integration specialist position. In the past we have had technology specializing teachers in each of the schools and we have a tech support specialist in each building, of which I am one.

So why is this new position different? And why am I hopeful given that the granting is only funding a year a half? This technology integration specialist position will make a lasting difference because unlike our previous specialist positions, its purpose is to assist and coach teachers. As described in the posting summary, the person who fills this position will focus almost entirely on “planning, implementing and supporting the effective integration of technology into curriculum.” This person will also “provide leadership in developing and implementing a multi-tiered approach to professional development.” In the past our school technology specialists have been competent and committed, excellent teachers of students. In fact, these teachers were so good, classroom teachers sometimes had the idea they could take pass when it came to using technology themselves. This caused a digital divide between classes whose teachers embraced technology and those whose teachers waited for the specialist to come in, or in some cases never asked the specialist to come in at all, to teach a technology-infused lesson. With this new model, this specialist will work with “tiers” of teachers at their different levels of need so that all teachers will gain skills and comfort using technology with their students. This is a more sustainable model that we hope will set on a path to closing the existing digital divide and give all our students the access they need to today’s technology.

Three well qualified individuals interviewed for this position. They each demonstrated a different set of skills and any one of them would have been able to this job impressively. The committee chose the individual we believed has the experience and creativity to lead the staff in new directions as well as a personality amenable to building the relationships necessary for successful coaching and collaboration. Having had the privilege of getting to know him a little better today over lunch, I am even more excited and hopeful to begin working with Carl Anderson when he starts as our new Technology Integration Specialist on March 1.

Photo cropped from IMGA0929.JPG on Rick McCharles' Flickr photostream.


  1. Wow, between the two of you there is now a power house! What an exciting new direction, I wish all the best in this new step. Keep us posted every step of the way. Schools everywhere could use a successful model.

  2. I can't wait to work with Carl. Just reading his most recent tweet makes me hope that he can help bring more of our teachers up to speed. "anderscj: I hear you but mainstream teachers are about 5 years behind the tech leaders" That says something about our schools, the leaders, and those who are trying to get technology integrated into the classroom.

  3. Ghostlibrarian, actually that was my reply to him. We were discussing with @brasst whether teacher laptops should have CD/DVD drives. They thought no, that technology was nearly obsolete, but I argued some teachers would still want to be able to burn media.