Lead for Digital Equity with These Community Engagement Strategies
Since 2016, CoSN has been honoring innovative school districts that address digital equity. This year, the prestigious Community Leadership Award for Digital Equity was awarded to Louisa County Public Schools in Virginia.
Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN, identified the five criteria used to determine the yearly award. “We ask applicants to describe how they provide leadership on digital equity, build community, implement technology, and develop public and private partnerships that impact sustainable programming,” he said. Through communication, innovation, and partnerships, Louisa County Public Schools is leading the way for digital equity.
During the edWebinar, “Leading for Digital Equity: Award-Winning Community Engagement Strategies,” honorees of this award discussed the community engagement strategies they used to address the digital inequities superintendents, technology directors, and school communities face every day.
As described by Doug Straley, Division Superintendent of Louisa County Public Schools (VA), Louisa County is a community that is not immune to the challenges of rural America. While it is a 1:1 district, 40% of the student population does not have reliable high-speed internet.
Like most rural communities, this created a significant digital divide when COVID-19 forced schools nationwide to close in March 2020. Therefore, the district’s team members needed to provide leadership in delivering information technologies to increase opportunities and accessibility for all students within the community.
The presenters discussed that communication at all levels was critical. By working in a think tank model, Straley said that the leadership produced unique solutions that they could communicate with leaders and stakeholders within their community to help families.
Building community with parents, teachers, and educational leaders was necessary to drive change, explained Kenny Bouwens, Director of CTE/STEAM and Innovation for the district, “One thing that makes the community so strong is our excellent communication. When building partnerships and relations with people throughout the community, it is critical to let them know that we will go through this together and that the district supports the community.”
Louisa County Public Schools is committed to supporting the success of all students and families, and a perfect example of that commitment is the district’s Wireless on Wheels units, also known as WOW. The solar-powered WiFi units provide internet hotspots throughout Louisa County. The district has placed more than two dozen of these units throughout the county, with more in production. The no-fee and filtered units are on trailers so that they can be towed and parked at locations throughout the county.
To add to that, Louisa CTE students have taken over the production phases of the WOW units. As a result, they bolster their engineering skills while providing a valuable service to their community. The presenters echoed each other with this statement, “We are Louisa County Public Schools, solar-powered, and we believe in leading the way.”
Public or Private Sector Partnership
Partnerships within the community were essential to the success of providing connectivity for all students. The district has developed partnerships with local small businesses by strategically placing WOW devices in parking lots of businesses, churches, and other organizations that the entire community can access.
In addition, the Louisa County local board of supervisors has been highly supportive of the project and is helping the district work through it. “The installation of connectivity units has brought everyone a little tighter together as we’re helping solve a community problem,” said Straley.
David Childress, Director of Technology for the district, noted that it is always a challenge to use technology in innovative ways based on best practices, but in Louisa, they learned to be clever with technology. For example, when they developed WOW, his team used off-the-shelf products that eliminated supply chain issues that enabled units to be quickly reproducible. This strategy allowed the district to promptly get these units out into the field to impact student learning immediately.
In addition, students now had access to the internet in places they did not before. Straley concurred, “It was helpful to our students to continue to compete and learn and lead the way, and I am proud of our team for producing this innovative idea.”
One of the things that came out of the pandemic and the district’s determination to provide equitable access for all students was the partnership with parents. Bouwens said, “Because parents truly did become more significant partners in education than ever, I often say they became co-teachers and learning facilitators for their students in ways that will support education in our district.”
Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, “Leading for Digital Equity: Award-Winning Community Engagement Strategies,” sponsored by ClassLink and co-hosted by CoSN and AASA.
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AASA is the premier association for school system leaders and serves as the national voice for public education and district leadership on Capitol Hill.
CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking) is the premier professional association for school system technology leaders. CoSN provides thought leadership resources, community, best practices and advocacy tools to help leaders succeed in the digital transformation. CoSN represents over 13 million students in school districts nationwide and continues to grow as a powerful and influential voice in K-12 education.
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Blog post by Eileen Belastock based on this edWebinar