Traci House

After a devastating tornado, Joplin Schools is coming back stronger than ever.
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Name: Traci House

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Title: Director of Technology

District: Joplin Schools, Missouri

What are your big-picture tech goals?

Joplin Schools was greatly affected by the F5 tornado on May 22, 2011. Because of that devastation, we’ve had to rebuild many schools, and with that work comes opportunity. Our vision team—comprised of teachers, students, Board members, and community members—was able to visit many award-winning schools across the U.S. and put into place a lot of what those schools are doing to make sure students are ready for anything when they leave high school.

As part of our rebuilding, technology will be seamless and embedded into everything. We’ve never been afraid of technology or viewed it as an extra burden; it’s always been just a tool. We started a one-to-one program with MacBooks, but in four years it’ll be something else.

What changes are you taking to achieve these goals?

We’ll have a lot more of our business and community folks teaching classes. Our state would probably not be considered aggressive in relation to redefining seat time, but we’re moving forward because we believe the term ‘seat time’ shouldn’t exist. We’re changing the schedule, offering more blended learning opportunities, and providing more of a career pathway plan. Some of the schools we visited offered more career-path type of classes but students had to lose extracurriculars. We want to make these classes part of the day, not at the loss of something else. It’s a radical change, but it’s doable.

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

Because we are building new buildings—everything was wiped out—the biggest challenge is getting tons and tons of phone calls and emails from vendors and picking out what’s relevant and making sure, as we build, that none of the classes look traditional. I recently went to look at futuristic furniture because it marries so closely with the rest of what we are doing. My biggest challenge is in making sure I’m aware of everything that’s out there but not wasting time.

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

Even before the tornado we had vision meetings where we brought in the community and used the media to spread our message. When the tornado wiped out our textbooks and technology we went with an eSource (open source) curriculum. The community knew about it and was on board with it. Even after the people in Joplin lost their cars and their homes, they passed the largest bond issue ever to help us.

What currently has you really excited?

I get excited when I think about creating a learning environment that is where the kids want to come to school. We got that when we had to have high school at our mall. If we can offer them technology and tools that gets them engaged and excited, that’s the best of all. This tornado let us have the opportunity to do what a lot of people would like to do. I don’t wish disasters on anyone, but we have definitely taken advantage of the silver lining.

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