Hank Thiele and Ken Wallace

Names& Titles: Hank Thiele, Chief Technology Officer; Ken Wallace, Superintendent

District: Maine Township (IL) High School District 207

What are your big-picture tech goals for your district?

Thiele: We support whatever direction the district is doing in terms of instruction. Our district is exploring the ideas of data teams, professional learning communities, and trying to figure out which instruction is affecting achievement. Technology is part of that—making sense of the data, sorting it out.

What changes are you taking to achieve these goals?

Thiele: We’ve built a collaborative environment in which all teachers have tools in their hands all the time. We provide laptops and are making tools such as Google Apps available so they can access them from anywhere. All the tools are very user friendly and available, regardless of device. Whenever we look at a tool, we break down any tech barriers that stop anything from moving forward.

What are the biggest challenges in your day-to-day life and how do you manage them?

Thiele: We are concerned about technology equity. Our three high schools have different demographics and needs. We have to level the playing field; that’s at the top of the list for me.

Wallace: For a number of years, we’ve been giving devices to families who need them as we replace them. But you can’t plug in all the gaps; we can give them a device but not the networking capability.

Thiele: We have a 1:1 netbook pilot program with the neediest group. The teachers talk with the students about free hotspots and where to connect so they know where to go. The kids can also go to our library.

Wallace: We are also working on what our curriculum should look like in the future, and how we should deliver it. How can we tap into the multitude of real-time, cutting-edge, state-of-the-art sources out there instead of from a book? What will that look like?

What separates us from other districts is that we use a teacher-leadership model. We were one of the first Google spotlight districts. We grow our own expertise from within. Within each department there are multiple leaders so Hank doesn’t have to field all the calls. We have strong teacher leaders and it’s about everyone supporting each other. We encourage risk taking. That’s how real learning occurs.

How do you get buy-in on ed tech from the school community?

Wallace: Two of our three high schools are on a list of top high schools in the U.S., so it isn’t a problem. Education has been very important and the tradition is long and rich. When I supervised curriculum seven years ago I sent out a survey about PD and technology. On all the tech questions, 90 percent of my responses were negative. At the time, we still did attendance on paper. In seven years, we’ve gone from way behind to a lighthouse district. We had a staff that was disappointed with tech access and tools, but they were hungry for those tools. I bought a computer and LCD for every class and we’ve taken off from there.

Thiele: The community has all been accepting of moving forward with technology.

What currently has you really excited?

Thiele: Technology is no longer separate from the rest of the conversation, from instruction. Now people assume it’ll be there, it’s going to work, it’s part of the landscape. We’ve gone from ‘why is it there’ to ‘how do we use it more effectively?’

Wallace: The fact that learners now have access to instant information that is powerful, real time, cutting edge—it goes way beyond the textbook. We can set up learning experiences in which we can link students to experts doing research right now. We’ve got to change the paradigm of how we teach. The forward-thinking teachers know they are facilitators; their job is to help students learn to evaluate, learn about what’s available, and how to find it.