Getting it Done

8/1/2004 5:00:00 AM

Boston launches new 5-year technology, teaching & learning plan. Why not you?

On November 3, 2001, at a conference sponsored by the Boston Public Schools, the City of Boston, and local and national corporate partners, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Boston Superintendent Thomas Payzant together launched LINC 2 the Future, Boston’s new five-year technology, teaching & learning plan for the schools and the community.

LINC 2 follows LINC 1 (Learning and Information Network for the Community), Boston’s first five-year plan, 1996-2001. A year before, LINC 2 looked doubtful. Times had changed since the passage of LINC 1, which focused on the Mayor’s simple goal to get technology into the hands of kids and teachers. The goal was one computer for every four kids. In 1996 it had been possible to excite people with the simple premise of empowering kids and teachers by equipping them and connecting them to the then two-year old World Wide Web.

LINC 1 had been wildly successful. It had called for a tripartite investment of $75 million over five years, with $25 million from the school budget, $25 million from the city’s capital budget, and $25 million raised from government grants, foundations and private corporations. This model, in real life, realized $145 million in actual spending, with the e-rate providing $65 million, and grants and private donations yielding $30 million. Even Silicon Valley companies like 3COM and Cisco, that were spearheading the Internet revolution, donated more to Boston than they did to Silicon Valley schools. They did this because of the tremendous commitment shown by the Mayor and the Superintendent and because of the capacity of the team leading the Boston effort.

But launching a second round in 2001 was a more doubtful proposition. Like all major urban centers, Boston has had to contend with poor scores on the state tests, the MCAS, particularly at the high school level. And in the spring of 2001, the economy stumbled and a recession was imminent.

How did Boston muster the forces to succeed in such a climate? To paraphrase Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” where did Boston go right? Several strategies stand out:

1. Assemble a multi-sector leadership team Boston created a working group led by Ann Grady, the School Department’s Director of Instructional Technology; Albert Lau, the Director of Administrative Computing; Steve Gag, the Mayor’s Technology Adviser; and Ed DeMore, head of the Digital Bridge Foundation. This insured that the city’s key players were represented and involved at the highest levels in the process.

2. Make it a technology, teaching, & learning plan for schools and community From the beginning the team recognized that simply building the next stage technology infrastructure and providing sufficient replacement equipment and new equipment was a less than compelling vision. Instead the team worked to address all the key teaching and learning goals of the Superintendent’s strategic plan, Focus on Children 2, and to provide technology tools and applications that will help kids, teachers, administrators, and parents to meet those goals. The heart of the plan is the new community portal, MyBPS, through which each of the parties will be able to both do their work and interact. Additionally, the plan goes beyond the schools to bring parents and the community in as full partners, a key goal of the Mayor.

3. Create a tripartite fund development model LINC 2 follows LINC 1 in adopting a tripartite fund development model, whereby investment by the school department and the city government demonstrates commitment and capacity to external funders and sponsors, including the state and federal governments, foundations and corporations.

4. Teambuilding 1 — Help the leaders understand technology’s potential Through a series of successful projects over the past five years the team was able to help both the mayor and the superintendent understand the real potential of technology to support solutions to the critical issues facing the schools and the city. Mayor Menino and Superintendent Payzant have emerged as key leaders of both LINC 1 and LINC 2.

5. Teambuilding 2 — Involve key external stakeholders Through extensive focus groups and through the convening of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Technology for the schools and the community, the team was able to enlist the active support and leadership of scores of education, business, higher education and community leaders. Many of these leaders are now spearheading fundraising and implementation for the new plan. Stakeholder involvement and commitment was also enhanced through an active email group (news and documents) and the LINC 2 the Future Web site, which housed the latest documents and information on the planning process and its participants.

6. Teambuilding 3 — Build the Internal Coalition A key element of LINC 1 was a massive professional development program for Boston teachers whereby 80% of all teachers, administrators and staff received more than 45 hours of training and hundreds of participating teachers received technology for their own use in the classroom. A commitment to continue teacher and administrator development and incentives has won LINC 2 the active support of the Boston Teachers Union and of the district’s teachers and administrators.

7. Create Unifying Events Key unifying events were used to demonstrate mutual commitment and capacity to all partners. Extensive focus groups mixed different sectors and constituencies. The November 3 conference brought together 700 teachers, administrators, parents, and leaders from the community, education, business, higher education, local and state government, etc.

8. Get it Done (Authorization) The LINC 2 the Future leadership team brought the plan before the political leaders in a way that insured success. The team constantly briefed the superintendent and the mayor during development, made professional presentations to the school committee, the Mayor’s Advisory Committee, and other leaders, and brought it before the school committee and mayor for joint approval and a public launch. This authorization means that the leadership team and its supporters can seek sponsors, grants, and build partnerships with corporations to implement the plan.

So why doesn’t your community have a new five-year plan? Most likely you failed in several of the areas that Boston excelled in.

But additionally you may have failed because your district follows some kind of one-size plan fits all methodology. Your superintendent or school committee may have their plan for teaching and learning, or literacy, and they fail to understand the role of signature projects that support the overall effort. Signature projects, like technology, or school-to-career, provide new pathways to development:

  • They allow second-tier leaders to become educational entrepreneurs, and rally other forces and funds to the common mission.
  • They enlist external stakeholders of all kinds, who are not inspired by the general plan but who do understand and can commit to the signature project.

We may still be in a recession today, but several months down the road the economy will turn up and present an opportunity to your community to make new strategic investments. Will you have a technology, teaching and learning plan? Will you have leaders, stakeholders, internal supporters, and strategic events and timetables to bring it all together? Are you ready?

Email: Bob Pearlman

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