Leadership in the Face of Inequities

When I first became an administrator, I was overrun with new experiences and challenges each day. Everything was new, and I had just not lived through enough past experiences to assist myself with basing future decisions. This was a challenge, but as time went on, and about ten years of administrative experience passed by, I had reached a point of comfort with the various issues that also arise at any other given district. In other words, nothing surprised anymore. I had lived through enough various human resource, financial, and professional development related issues, that although very challenging at times, were aspects of educational leadership that I had come to expect.

Unprecedented. This is a term with a definition that accounts for an extreme assessment of a situation. It has now become a term that has also lost some of its emphasis and impact because it is a term that has been used so much to describe the reality of our world and education system right now. This is a truly unprecedented situation.

The best educational leaders, and the ones I look up to and try to learn from the most, are the ones that take on any situation with confidence and a plan. Confidence and a plan are the most important thing a leader can offer right now. This does not mean you need to predict the future, or hide that you are also scared. Rather, confidence and a plan show that you are willing to lead in a crisis because you understand that you are far from perfect yet know also that you must help others.

In light of our current situation, virtually all school districts in our nation are navigating to online learning for students. While it is inspiring to see educators embrace this, despite their different levels of readiness and varying degrees of preparedness, it has also put a spotlight on an issue that we as a collective educational society need to address. The discrepancy between technology and internet access for students equates to nothing less than unequal access to educational opportunities. In places where school buildings are closed, as in Illinois, there is not a single teacher that does not miss and want to help their students. The difference for so many students on whether learning is occurring, or the quality of engagement and instruction, is not based upon desire, but a lack of access.

Technological resources and internet access needs to be ubiquitous for all, and this need has come to the forefront right now. If all schools are being tasked to prepare students for 21st century skills, then 21st century access for all is a must. I am not going to pretend that I have the universal answer and solution on how to make this happen, but I do know this: the first step to solving any problem is identifying that the problem exists.

I have seen firsthand lately that being a leader has nothing to do with a title. Being a leader has everything to do with action. I am witnessing kitchen workers, bus drivers, and educators working tirelessly to positively impact students in the face of severe challenges. These are the true leaders in a crisis, and they deserve our recognition. Leadership is about actually doing something. Based upon this realization, I would now task our society to lead through action, as well. We need to ensure no student lacks access to learning due to a lack of resources. We need to do better, and the unequal technological state of our education system right now proves it.

Dupo CUSD 196 Bridges the Homework Gap

For over twenty years, educators have been keenly aware of the “Digital Divide” — the gap between those with access to the Internet and those without.  It is a persistent issue in the world of EdTech and many would say that the divide is widening.  For as long as teachers have been utilizing digital learning and Internet-based assignments, technological inequity at home exists for so many students around the country.

Nationwide, more than five million K-12 students don’t have access to broadband Internet once they leave school. This technology breach puts them at a distinct disadvantage from their more digitally-connected peers. This disadvantage is known as the “homework gap.”  The homework gap often forces students in these households to head over to the public library to squeeze in an hour of homework after school instead of going home. Some students venture out of their homes to commercial locations or coffee shops with free Wi-Fi access in order to complete and submit classwork. Unfortunately, many others are simply unable to complete their work.

Dupo School District in Southern Illinois is addressing the homework gap head-on.  District leaders have decided to narrow the gap for their students by deploying a mobile hotspot lending program.  It has been a collaborative effort bringing together district administrators, technology staff, teachers, and library staff.

Being a 1:1 school district, Technology Director Leonard Aldridge and Educational Technology Director Mike Treece report that Dupo teachers had approached them with a desire to create and assign more technology-rich curricular material for students.  This would certainly present a problem for students who lack reliable broadband Internet access at home.  It was at this point that Dupo Superintendent Kelly Carpenter brought a promising grant opportunity to her team as a possible solution. Wireless Internet provider company, Kajeet, provides one-year grants to school districts to obtain their mobile wireless hotspots free of charge.  In the summer of 2018, they wrote and submitted a grant for ten “smartspot” mobile access points and got it!

Working with administrators and the library staff, Leonard and Mike developed a lending program for the mobile hotspots that they implemented during the 2018-2019 school year.  So far, it has been greatly beneficial for students and staff alike. Convenience is an important factor in the program as well.  Dupo students simply check-out and return a hotspot just like a book from the library.  The length of the check-out time is dependent on the demand for the devices.  Librarian Kellie Kloess states that no students have had difficulty acquiring a hotspot when needed.  She said that students have been consistently checking them out each week since the inception of the program.

When it comes to student access to the Internet, obviously digital safety and security are of the utmost importance. While using the Kajeet hotspots, even at home, students remain behind the robust content filter, so any potential safety, security, and content issues are greatly alleviated.  Both tech directors say with much relief that maintaining the security parameters on the devices is simple and fairly foolproof.

All-in-all, the program has been a great success for the students, staff, and community of Dupo and certainly represents proactive thinking regarding digital learning.  The program truly is the result of the unified vision of all involved.

When asked what will happen when the grant ends after one year, the Dupo team reports enthusiastically that the program will continue, as they have already included the Kajeet subscription fees into next year’s technology budget.  They all agree that it is money very well-spent!

To learn more about Dupo School District or their Kajeet Smartspot lending program, visit https://www.dupo196.org or contact Educational Technology Director Mike Treece at mtreece@dupo196.org.


Tools and Resources Used:

  •  G Suite for Education
  •  Chromebooks
  •  Promethean boards in every classroom
  •  Desktop labs in all buildings
  •  HMH digital curriculum
  •  TeacherEase
  •  Read 180
  •  Fast Math
  •  STEM Scopes
  • 3D Printer
  • Photoshop and Adobe Suite
  • CAD software for Robotics

District Information
Dupo CUSD 196
600 Louisa Avenue, Dupo, IL 62239
www.dupo196.org

Mike Treece
Educational Technology Director
mtreece@dupo196.org

Demographics
County: St. Clair
Community Type: Rural
Enrollment: 1,001-3,500 Students
Grades Served: P-12
See All Details at IllinoisReportCard.com


Oak Grove School focuses on Digital Learning

When families are asked why they chose Oak Grove School for their children’s education, Superintendent, Dr. Lonny Lemon, reports that a pattern emerges. “They like the fact that students in grades K–8 are all housed in the same building, and they like the fine arts program that begins in kindergarten. They are thrilled with all the access to technology including a video production room available to students.”

Dr. Jason Meltzer, 6th–8th media production teacher and district technology coach, has played a major role in supporting the teachers at Oak Grove and teaching digital arts to students. In his role as a technology coach, he helps teachers integrate a wide variety of technology tools into their programs.  They often ask Dr. Meltzer to help with graphic, audio, and video production. Many times teachers will create the footage and reach out to him to put it all together for publication or online viewing. Other times, Dr. Meltzer helps integrate technology with students in his 6th–8th-grade digital arts classes. Topics for these classes are Introduction to Digital Arts, Programming, Multimedia, Digital Video Production, and Filmmaking.

Based on their grade level, students are exposed to different ways in which technology can be used to enhance their learning. For example, in 2nd grade the art teacher, Erin Vance, has students create their own version of Edvard Munch’s  The Scream. Dr. Meltzer then assists with the students coming into the production room where a picture is taken with them “screaming” in front of a green screen. The students then combine the two images on their iPads. The result is a slideshow that loops on a hallway monitor for students and visitors to enjoy. You can see the project here: https://bit.ly/2KSVznK

There are in fact two large-screen monitors mounted in the building that play a variety of student-made video projects from Dr. Meltzer’s classes as well as videos from other curricular areas and school-wide events. Also playing on the monitor are short videos using the same green screen, supporting the school’s annual Multicultural Day. Students at Oak Grove come from diverse backgrounds. This project, supported by the SEL department, gave the students a chance to share a bit about their language, culture, and to share facts about their native countries. See the project here: https://bit.ly/2FZ4UvB

Students in drama classes also use technology in a variety of ways to reflect and critique performances. Melanie Ludington, the drama teacher, records videos of rehearsals so students can improve and then later share their performances such as these 7th grade short plays written by the students: https://bit.ly/2SogVMm, or these 2nd graders flying like Peter Pan, https://bit.ly/2BPj0vc.  “The Day the Crayons Quit” book came to life as well: https://bit.ly/2rkZQaL.  Video is also incorporated into the annual 8th-grade musical, such as this scene from Singing in the Rainhttps://bit.ly/2SuRSHA.

Students in music and band take advantage of their 1:1 devices. Younger students use their iPads to compose music and play online ukulele accompaniments with their music teacher, Logan Farris. Dave Jones, the band director, has his students video their playing tests on their laptops while at home. They upload these videos to his Google Classroom site for assessment. This strategy saves valuable rehearsal time and allows Mr. Jones to write back private comments about their performances.

In Dr. Meltzer’s 6th–8th-grade classes, students are exposed to more sophisticated programs and multimedia topics. Students use a variety of high-end software, professional microphones, and cameras to create high-quality projects. In these classes, Dr. Meltzer structures these classes so that students can help teach each other. For example, some students are better shooting video while others are better at graphic design, music composition, or web programming. A small sample of recently created student projects can be seen here: https://goo.gl/gpdkXh

All of these opportunities build student skills, allowing them to not only become comfortable with advanced software but to assist in creation that benefits the school. In November, Oak Grove had a Veteran’s Day ceremony where students ran the various video cameras and digital mixers that collected footage to be edited into a celebratory video to be shared with those that could not attend live. View it here: https://goo.gl/TbD8gW

The learning does not stop when school is over. Dr. Meltzer has started a stop-motion after-school club and offers a summer camp for music video production with Logan Farris: http://bit.ly/2ASD8es

Not only does Oak Grove offer many opportunities to explore the arts at a very early age, but the teachers also have coaches on board to help technology fit in with ease.

To learn more about the history of the new computer lab and production studio, check out this video: https://goo.gl/qB6GqS


Tools and Resources Used:

  • Google Apps for Education (G Suite for Education)
  • Final Cut Pro
  • Motion 5
  • GarageBand
  • Photoshop Elements
  • Dragonframe Stop Motion
  • iPad
  • MacBook
  • Sony Cameras
  • Shure Microphones

District Information
Oak Grove SD 68
1700 O’Plaine Rd Green Oaks, IL 60048
ogschool.org

Jason Meltzer
Media Production Teacher / Technology Coach
meltzer@ogschool.org

Demographics
County: Lake
Community Type: Suburban
Enrollment: 301-1000 Students
Grades Served: P-8
See All Details at IllinoisReportCard.com