Leading the Digital Transformation in Rural Districts During Crisis and Beyond

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The current crisis has highlighted the disparity between students with and without equitable access to technology, especially in rural schools. While most teachers are being asked to take their lessons directly to the students’ homes, many administrators know that the challenges in their districts go beyond whether or not students have enough devices to do their classwork. During CoSN and ClassLink’s edWebinar, Leading Digital Transformations in Rural School Districts,” the presenters talked about how the situation with COVID-19 amplifies the obstacles rural schools face transitioning to a 21st century learning environment.

One of the first challenges rural districts face is broadband access. Whether during a typical school year or now, many families don’t have home WiFi, and kids must find alternative ways to complete online work outside of school hours. Normally, many rural districts work with local libraries and businesses to provide students with WiFi hotspots. Now, they are employing creative methods, such as expanding the reach of the school’s broadband so students can do work from the parking lot or in the surrounding area, having off-duty patrol cars become hotspots across the district.

Teachers have also been doubly challenged with the quarantine. Already, many teachers don’t have the skills to integrate tech into the classroom—even the young ones. While they may be proficient in using edtech, they don’t know how to create comprehensive lessons to use it in the classroom. With not all kids having the same access, they need to figure out how to develop lessons to accommodate all students.

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Similarly, before the crisis all of the presenters were working with their boards and communities to show them edtech in a positive light and help them understand the importance of using tools in school that students will use in college and the workforce. However, many parents never wanted any tech in the house or only wanted their kids to use it in a limited capacity. Today, the parents see the value and are more supportive of the digital transition. And just as they are getting creative with WiFi access, the schools are also working on ways to get devices to all students. At Maury County Public Schools (TN), for example, families can check out WiFi-enabled devices for two weeks at a time. There are some controls on the devices, but students can complete the required work.

A final challenge—again, whether or not during a crisis—is compassion for the families and students while still ensuring an effective education. The presenters emphasized constant, consistent communication with all constituents, explaining what edtech tools the school is using, why they are using them, and the expectations for the students. Let them know that the teachers are still there for the families; the edtech is just there to support the learning.

Most important, be understanding of different families’ predicaments. The nature of the quarantine means many kids will have skills gaps, as well as social emotional issues, to address in the coming school year and beyond. Schools may need to approach the digital transition one family at a time to make sure all students receive a quality and effective education.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by ClassLink and co-hosted by CoSN and edWeb.net.

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This article was modified and published by eSchool News.

About the Presenters

Ann Linson is in her ninth year as Superintendent of East Noble School Corporation serving 3,600 students in rural northeast Indiana. Her previous experiences include being a classroom business teacher at the high school and post-secondary levels, assistant director of a vocational cooperative, principal at East Noble High School, and assistant superintendent at East Noble School Corporation. Ann earned her bachelors, masters, and Ed.S. degrees from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She was selected to participate in the Future Ready Superintendent Briefing with the U.S. Department of Education Secretary in October 2016. Ann also attended the 2014 White House Connected Superintendents Summit and was named a 2012-2013 NSBA Technology Leadership Network 20 to Watch Educator. During Ann’s leadership at East Noble School Corporation, the district received the Indiana Chapter of CoSN’s Excellence in Vision Team Award, was selected as a Project Red Signature District and selected to the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.

Dr. Chris Marczak is the superintendent of schools for the Maury County Public School system in Tennessee and a 2017 NSBA “20 to Watch” educational technology award recipient. Dr. Marczak leads trainings across Tennessee in district and principal professional development, SMART goal implementation, professional learning communities, and the impact of social media on the superintendency. Dr. Marczak is also an adjunct professor in Nashville, TN, where he teaches in doctoral programs for both educational leadership and technology in educational leadership. Prior to coming to Maury County, Dr. Marczak was the assistant superintendent in Oak Ridge Schools in Tennessee, a district lead principal with Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, an elementary principal, and an elementary teacher with Wilson County Schools and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. McGavock Elementary, where Dr. Marczak served as principal, earned Reward status by being one of the top 10% elementary schools in the state of Tennessee in 2012.

Glenn Robbins is Superintendent of Brigantine Public Schools in New Jersey. His passion is harnessing a school culture that thrives on design thinking skills, innovative digital spaces, high caliber professional development, exponential thinking, BYOD/1to1, and makerspaces. Glenn encourages all students to have a voice, not only in building a school culture, but also in designing student-led courses. He was named as a Digital Principal of the Year by NASSP for exhibiting bold, creative leadership in his drive to harness the potential of new technologies to further learning goals for staff, students, and the school community. Glenn has been recognized by numerous organizations for his innovative technology implementation methods and has been a featured speaker at numerous events across the globe. By empowering students and staff to have a growth mindset through design thinking, while implementing digital tools, we better prepare them for the profound shifts that they will encounter in life.

About the Host

Ann McMullan is Project Director for CoSN’s Empowered Superintendents Initiative. Ann served as Executive Director, Educational Technology in the Klein Independent School District, near Houston, Texas until September 2013, when she and her family moved to Los Angeles, California. For 16 years Ann led the district team that provided professional development on technology and 21st century instructional strategies to 4,000 professional educators serving 50,000 students. Ann served as co-chair of Texas Education Technology Advisory Committee which developed the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology, 2006-2020. Today, Ann is based in Los Angeles working as a public speaker, writer, and education consultant focused on leadership and planning to meet the needs of today’s students. Ann serves on the Project Tomorrow advisory council and is a leadership consultant with Executive Service Corps of Southern California, serving non-profit associations. Ann co-authored Life Lessons in Leadership, a guide for leaders ages eight to 88.

Join the Community

Super-Connected is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net for school superintendents, district leadership, and aspiring district leaders.

ClassLinkClassLink empowers your students and teachers with instant access to their learning resources. ClassLink® OneClick® includes a library of over 5,000 single sign-on apps and instant links to file folders at school and on Google, Office 365, and Dropbox cloud drives. ClassLink Roster Server easily and securely delivers class rosters to any publisher using open technology standards. ClassLink Analytics gives decision makers the usage data they need. Accessible from any computer, tablet or smartphone, ClassLink is ideal for 1to1 and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives.

CoSN 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.