Name: : Jon Castelhano
Title: Director of Technology
District: Apache Junction Unified School District, AZ
What are your big-picture tech goals for your district?
We’re in the last year of a five-year technology plan, so we’re wrapping up some of the bigger projects. We recently finished standardizing classrooms with projectors and document cameras district wide and completed the distribution of laptops to all district teachers. We are now in the third year of our one-to-one netbook program for the 7th through 9th grades. The transition of the one-to-one program to the high school has gone well, and the time invested to prepare the 9th-grade teachers is evident in how they have embraced the incoming students and technology. The combination of our junior high students and teachers working with the high school staff was very beneficial to the success we are observing now. We enjoy listening to the feedback from our students at all grade levels. About a year ago, we put together a video on what they liked about school and what they wanted to see. It was a great experience that we shared with the entire district; you can watch the video at http://tinyurl.com/a3t8t9l.
Just this past month we prepared and delivered 400 more netbooks to the elementary schools and added another 150 iPads there as well. That’ll give us a total of 18 iPad carts for four elementary schools and the junior high school. The iPads are a challenge to manage, and we have just completed the move to Apple Configurator. The move has made app management a cleaner process and placed more of the responsibility in the teacher’s hands, which they have welcomed.
What changes are you taking to achieve them?
The biggest thing my tech-integration specialist and I preach is that it’s not about the device—they will continually change and evolve. Good teaching has to be at the front. We’ve tried hard to continue our professional development with tech integration. Two years ago, I brought a classroom teacher who was amazing at project-based learning (PBL) and collaboration into our department as a tech-integration specialist. Since cloning wasn’t an option, we brainstormed on how she could maximize her time and reach the most people. She started with collaboration coaching (using a peer-coaching model) and focused on good teaching, PBL, and how to incorporate technology into the classroom landscape. The coaches are classroom teachers and work with their learning communities at their sites to share information and support one another. She is currently training our third group of collaborative coaches with the hope of expanding the program yearly. Our tech-integration specialist is also available for side-by-side teaching, hands-on coaching, or whatever a teacher needs. We want to make all the technology valuable.
What are the biggest challenges in your day-to-day life and how do you manage them?
There’s not enough time and that’s all there is to it. It’s hard to keep up with Twitter and gather the information I need. There’s never enough time to go through all my Google Reader feeds. It is easy to make excuses but you just have to prioritize and work hard. Surrounding yourself with a great staff helps, and I have that here.
How do you get buy in on ed tech from the school community?
It boils down to good leadership. Our superintendent and Board are both very supportive. I take every opportunity to speak with the Board so they are aware of how technology is being integrated into our classrooms. Working with each school’s parent organizations is also very important. Aligning their efforts with the district goals is important for a successful partnership.
What currently has you really excited?
What is exciting is watching what our students are doing with technology. It’s almost impossible to keep up with them and how quickly they find ways to use their devices to create and communicate with each other. It’s exciting to listen to them, hear their ideas, and discuss how they would like to see technology used in the classroom.