A Focus on Equity, Students, and Teacher Champions Leads to 1:1 Success in Oak Grove

Annie Galvin Teich

When Superintendent José L. Manzo first arrived at the Oak Grove School District in San Jose, California, three years ago, the community was emerging from an extended economic downturn and there was very little support for technology as a teaching tool.  Coming from a district where technology had been used to leverage students’ learning and provide valuable resources for teachers, Manzo brought that sensibility with him to Oak Grove.  He began working with the school board to outline a vision for a digital program that would support all students – including English language learners, under-served minorities, and all those on the wrong side of the achievement gap.

 “Initially there were huge economic gaps between schools,” said Manzo. “Some could easily raise $40,000 while others could barely raise $5,000.” The financing for the tech implementation would eventually come from a bond referendum, but ensuring equity for students across the district was essential from the start.

District planners began with a central question: “What classroom experience do we want our students to have regardless of what school they’re in?”  With participation and support from the school board, they defined a set of core values, including:    

  • Child-centered learning;
  • Cooperative, collaborative, mutual support, shared responsibility and success;
  • A strong work ethic and a commitment to creativity, innovation, and continuous growth;
  • Honest and ethical interactions;
  • Value and respect for diversity.

After creating the vision for where they wanted to go, district leaders took on the practicalities of designing and implementing the program in a way that would ensure the greatest success. This led to a phased deployment plan with investment in infrastructure and professional development first, followed by student implementation.

Expanding the Role of IT

Superintendent Manzo believed that technology should be determined by instructional goals and objectives. While leaving the details to the IT team, he made it clear that the overall goal was to create a robust and reliable system that was available to kids anywhere on campus, allowing them to be creative and prepare for the workforce.

Before focusing on devices, the district knew it had to create a robust network infrastructure and staff up for technology support. Najeeb Qasimi, director of information technology for the district, led this effort, beginning with a review of the limited technology and support that was in place before he arrived.  Initially, there was insufficient bandwidth and only a few devices per school to support. Each school had a tech person as a resource but not an instructional leader who knew how to support tech integration into instruction, other than one person in the district IT office to help with technology in classrooms.

The IT team worked on increasing wireless connections, installing one access point per classroom. They increased bandwidth to 1 Gbps per 1,000 students, with plans to ramp up to the SETDA recommended goal of 10 Gbps per 1,000 students.  Qasimi reports, “We’ve also installed access points in campus common areas such as halls, gyms, and playgrounds so that kids can have wireless access anywhere on our school campuses.”

A reconfigured IT department added help desks, several tech support people, a new engineer, and two teachers on special assignment to focus on the integration of technology into instruction. The district also reassigned responsibilities to a curriculum and instruction director who serves as liaison with the IT group and supervises the teachers on special assignment.

With the technical and human infrastructure in place, Qasimi and his team reviewed possible devices, including Windows laptops, iPads, and Chromebooks. “The price point of the Chromebooks was certainly attractive as we could purchase more devices,” Qasimi says, “but we had other reasons for making that choice as well.” Those reasons included the ease with which the devices could be managed from a single point in the district office, and the fact that the Chromebooks were approved devices for the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests that California was adopting.

Qasimi’s team reviewed Chromebooks from several different companies and chose the Acer C720 because of the speed of the Intel processor, which allows it to boot up reliably in 3 seconds, and the 8½-hour battery life – enough to get through an entire school day.  They started with 1500 Chromebooks in 2013, and built from there, adding other Acer models along the way – including the C720P, with touch capabilities, for preschool and kindergarten, and the newer C740 models that they have purchased recently for grades 1-8. They now have one device for every two students – enough to implement the first round of SBAC tests last year without glitches – and by 2017 they plan to be 1:1 with the Chromebooks.

Teacher Champions  

“We knew from the beginning of the project that our goal was to support teachers as they made the shift from traditional to technology-integrated instruction,” says Manzo, adding, “Introducing the Chromebooks in phases allowed reluctant teachers enough time to get comfortable with the changes and even develop eagerness to try teaching with the Chromebooks.”

As in most districts, the early adopters ran with their use of the devices while the teachers on special assignment supported other teachers by modeling the use of Chromebooks in the classroom, leading professional development, and helping them identify resources for integrating technology into instruction. The new IT help desk was also very responsive to teachers and quick to provide support when needed.

Identifying teacher champions, rather than trainers from the IT department, was a real key to building support and overcoming objections because it sent a strong message that the primary focus was on student-centered curriculum and instruction and the technology needed to support that. Students of the teacher champions joined in making presentations about Chromebooks – another factor that helped build enthusiasm for the transition.

Last year Oak Grove ran its own tech conference. They invited a motivational speaker who talked about the importance of technology in the world today and helping students develop the skills they needed to be successful in their futures. The speaker was followed by breakout sessions that allowed teachers to chose what they wanted to focus on. “The conference was created and delivered by our teachers so it gave a level of confidence that all teachers could make this transition and would be supported,” Manzo explains. “The adults in our district must model continuous learning so our students see it in action.”

Measuring Success

Walking through schools every day, Manzo observes that, “Students are clearly more engaged. It’s visual. You can see it.” He was pleased to discover validation in the form of a dramatic decline in both disciplinary actions and suspensions – disciplinary actions decreased by nearly 20% (from 9,133 events in 2013-2014 to 7, 441 during the 2014-2015 school year), and suspensions decreased more than 40% (from 843 to 496).

 “It seems clear to me that these decreases are a result of higher student engagement,” he says. “We are creating richer learning experiences for our students in an environment that is student-centered and collaborative.”

But Manzo is not satisfied that the district’s lofty goals have been met yet. Recognizing that the gap in Internet access for underserved students is still an issue, Oak Grove’s next technology goal is to become a satellite center to provide home Internet access for the large percentage of students who do not have it.

Qasimi reports that, although most students have smartphones, those are difficult to use for schoolwork. District leaders have incorporated universal access into their five-year technology plan and are considering various possibilities to allow students access to Chromebooks and other devices at home. They are also exploring other partnerships that may expand wireless access to students beyond the school day.

“My ultimate goal,” says Manzo, “is that we will be able to facilitate 24/7 access to adaptive learning content for our students whether they are learning at school or at home.”

At A Glance: 

Oak Grove School District is a Pre-K through 8th grade district located in the southeastern corner of San Jose, CA.

It serves approximately 11,000 students in 16 elementary schools and 3 intermediate schools.

45% of the students receive free or reduced-price lunch.

The student body is diverse:

  • 50% Hispanic
  • 20% Asian
  • 19% White
  • 5% African American
  • 7% Other

There are 60 languages spoken.

Infrastructure: 

Preschool and kindergarten students use Acer C720P Chromebooks.

Grades 1-8 use a mixture of Acer C720 and Acer C740 models.

The plan is to purchase additional C740 Chromebooks during the 2016-2017 school year in order to reach a 1:1 ratio with 11,000 devices. 

Learn More: 

Visit Oak Grove School’s technology page: http://www.ogsd.net/?page_id=334

Read the eBook: Less Waiting, More Learning with Intel-Based Chromebooks

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