Superintendents from several school districts in the Lower Hudson Valley came together March 10 at the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents Tech Summit to talk about the impact of digital convergence in their schools.
The Council partnered with the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center to host the daylong event.
Several school districts across the country have signed on to the idea of digital convergence, which aims to merge what might have previously been discrete and separately used technologies into a collective set of offerings that can benefit both teachers and students.
Held at the Edith Macy Conference Center in Briarcliff Manor, Glen Huot, superintendent of the Stamford Central School District in Stamford, N.Y., in his keynote presentation, talked about his district’s technological journey over the past two years.
When he assumed the position of superintendent two years ago, Dr. Huot said the school district had few digital resources, staff morale was low and expectations were equally lacking.
Eager to create a new vision for the rural school district, which only serves 308 students, Dr. Huot said he looked to the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina for inspiration.
That district had embarked on its own digital convergence journey in 2008, explained Dr. Huot, when administrators decided to put laptops into the hands of all third through 12th-grade students and a Smartboard in every kindergarten through third-grade class, even though the district’s financial resources were modest.
Dr. Huot took advantage of the district’s professional development summer program, which it offers to educators across the country.
He also helped inspire Stamford’s Board of Education by giving them copies of the book, “Every Child, Every Day: A Digital Conversion Model for Student Achievement,” written by Mark Edwards, the 2013 Superintendent of the Year and the head of the Mooresville Schools.
“They were absolutely mesmerized by it,” said Dr. Huot, adding that the Board was eager to implement similar results in the Stamford Schools by giving students ownership of their education, providing a more personalized learning experience through more precise data, and facilitating a deeper kind of learning for students, where they could collaborate and problem solve with their peers.
He said the playing field was leveled when every student received a laptop, an expensive but worthwhile venture. Convincing parents, teachers and the community of the initiative’s value was part of the process, but Dr. Huot said acquiring funds was not the most significant hurdle.
“Teachers and students had to be retrained to use a new system and technical glitches had to be solved before the laptops could be handed out,” he explained.
Dr. Huot said his district used the BrightBytes Clarity program to get feedback on faculty and student tech expertise as well as device availability and broadband capabilities in families’ homes.
He also credited the South Central Regional Information Center as well as the Ostego Northern Catskills BOCES for their partnership and cooperation.
SWBOCES District Superintendent Dr. Harold Coles, who attended the event, said participation from the state’s BOCES on such an initiative is crucial.
“Having this conference is the first step, but we really have to start thinking about how education and technology are no longer separate,” he said. “In fact they are all the same.”
Dr. Coles said the various BOCES across the state need to be willing to help create a culture that speaks to instructional change, which also supports teachers.
“Teachers went into education because they have a love of learning,” he added. “We are working with a different generation of learners. Helping them to become self-learners is critical.”
Changing the culture of the school district was a major factor in Stamford’s success, said Dr. Huot, referring to the building of trust and the development of relationships that went into the district’s digital evolution.
“We wanted to create a community of learners and to slowly build a transformational change that would meet every child’s needs,” he said.
Pleasantville Union Free School District Superintendent Dr. Mary Fox, who worked closely with the LHRIC’s Executive Director Dennis Lauro to organize the Summit, reiterated the importance of digital convergence for today’s learners.
“The current education model is a 19th century model,” said Dr. Fox. “The question for us today is, how do we leverage technology in the right way and what is it that we want our students to know and to do?”
Dr. Lauro said the technologies that are being used in education today have existed for some time, but that with some effort and professional development, they could help increase student interest in learning and also excite and motivate students to achieve at higher levels.
“I think this can also change the classroom instruction from the traditional models that existed before to newer models that incorporate and integrate instructional technologies that exist today,” he added.
Others contributing to the Summit included the NYCOSS leadership team of Bob Lowry, deputy director for advocacy, research & communications; Chuck Dedrick, executive director of NYCOSS; Jacinda Conboy, the Council’s general counsel, and Greg Berck, assistant director governmental relations/assistant counsel.