Q. You've mentioned your funding priorities fell into place once the district changed its technology vision. Can you describe that vision and how you implemented it?
A. We started by hiring a technology director from the business world; forming a diverse technology committee that included instructional leaders, teachers, the director of operations, the business manager, and board members; and making technology use the number one priority. The committee attended an ISTE institute, during which we had an epiphany. We realized that we needed to think "systems change" and move beyond the usual barriers such as finances and staff development. On the flight back we developed an outline for our plan on a Delta airsick bag! It had three basic parameters: systemic; based on national standards; and nonthreatening to students and staff. (More details are available at www.dillon3.k12.sc.us/iste.htm.)
Q. How did this epiphany impact your district technology plan?
A. We simplified the technology skills we want students to learn. K-2 students work in classroom learning centers using LeapFrog programs and other software. In grades 3-5, students learn keyboarding skills in technology labs. In grades 6-8, students learn various uses of technology including Web design, digital cameras, laptops, and handheld devices. The idea is that by the time students enter high school, they're able to use any of the technologies at the teacher's disposal. We also provided students and parents with 24-hour access to all instruction using support technologies such as Blackboard and ParentCONNECT, and hired a technology coach to give ongoing professional development.
Q. How are you funding the program?
A. By involving various players on the technology committee, we are able to utilize existing resources more effectively. For example, once all of our technology needs were on the table, the maintenance director saved outside contracting costs by using district employees to install wiring, and the director of instruction modified existing staff development plans to incorporate technology training. We also elicit support from businesses and industries that purchase hardware in the form of used hardware, and cash donations. The local bank bought graphing calculators for our math classes. Recently, an insurance agency and local industries donated used computers, which were refurbished and given to each of our kindergarten students' families to use at home.
Q. What creative strategies are you using to procure additional funds for tech?
A. The key to funding our plan is grant awards. As a small rural district, it was impossible for us to compete with affluent districts with staff grant writers. So we spent money to make money. I rehired a retiring staff
member who had won several small grants while teaching and sent her for additional grant writing training. To date we have received over $4 million in state, federal, and private foundation grants. Not all of these were specifically technology related, but we incorporated technology needs into the spending plan. After-school homework grant funds, for instance, are used to purchase technology that enhances instructional delivery, and literacy funds were used to purchase Pinpoint software, enabling us to create a virtual library resource system.
Susan Brooks-Young is an educational consultant and writer.
Latta School District
Student population: 1,510
Free and reduced lunch: 77%
Per-pupil instructional expenditure: $4,718