Darryl LaGace is chief technology officer for the Lemon Grove School District in southern California and past president of the California Educational Technology Professionals Association (CETPA). School CIO spoke with LaGace about his perspective on the year in ed tech and what K−12 leaders can expect in 2007.
Q. What was hot in ed tech in 2006?
A. A lot of the focus in 2006 had to do with data. In our district, we took the information we use to put students in classes and targeted instruction based on that. In the past, students would show up, maybe take a pre test, get placed in classes. Now we’re able to look at multiple data elements—not just state standardized testing, but also exit tests from the year before, grades, and teacher comments—and come up with a metric to accurately place a child and customize instruction. Last year was the first year we did online assessments, so we could collect information much more quickly. We could also keep the students more informed, so they can see how they’re performing.
Q. What technologies are going to be big in 2007?
A. I think in 2007, and even forward, the focus will be on access. For example, 1:1 [computing] initiatives. Across the nation, many states are issuing or seeking legislation to make 1:1s possible. My fear, though, is that access shouldn’t just be about the devices, but about the changed learning environment that supports their use. Access doesn’t just mean giving a child a laptop, but providing a new kind of environment in which that laptop can be used.
[At Lemon Grove], we’re focused on changing our teaching and learning environment so we can reach diverse learners. We’ve done a survey with our kids that focuses on the ways they like to learn—we’ve assessed the percentage of students who prefer to learn by lecture, or by watching videos, or by doing research online. We’ve learned that more kids like to do some research online, work in collaborative groups, and use videos to bolster their knowledge. But there’s a disconnect, because not all educators are prepared for that. We’re not recognizing that we ask these students to come to school in what’s still a very traditional learning environment.
Q. What do you think a Democrat-controlled congress means for current and pending legislation that affects schools?
A. I certainly hope there will be stronger, or at least continued, support for E-Rate. In our district, 69 to 70 percent of our students are on free or reduced lunch, so E-Rate ensures a line of connectivity. I also hope the Democrats will recognize that schools have ongoing needs, instead of [a need for] funding for one-time initiatives. Maybe [the new Congress] will see more clearly that continued and increased funding at the federal level is essential. We’ve watched it kind of dwindle away over the past few years. Hopefully there will be a renewed focus on the new ways we’re learning to incorporate technology, too. We can’t expect to change teaching environments and reach the kinds of diverse students we have without dollars for ed tech professional development.
Q. What are your goals for CETPA and Lemon Grove in 2007?
A. At Lemon Grove, we’re proudly issuing a 1:1 initiative, maybe the first of its kind, in January. In addition to a laptop, we’re giving a “custom flavor” of broadband to each middle school student’s home. It’s like a DSL line that’s restricted—a built-in VPN connection kicks it back to the district, so we can maintain the use of filters. It’s a much safer computing experience that provides kids access to the programs they use every day, but at home. We don’t want to create a digital divide between kids who have [high-speed Internet at home] and those who don’t. We did a three-year pilot where we brought the program to 300 students at one of Lemon Grove’s two middle schools, and now we’re bringing it to 1,500.
As far as the goals for CETPA: in 2007 we’re highlighting the role of the CTO in education, the importance of having somebody at the district level who focuses on the technology needs of the entire organization. One of the things CETPA has done is to create a CTO mentor program. It launches in February in Sacramento. It’s a year-long process where we match a promising technology leader with an existing CTO. There’s a comprehensive, four pillar curriculum designed to give the promising ed tech leader a wealth of experience they need to take on the role of CTO: information about federal programs, E Rate, how to run a business office, how to be in compliance, etc. We’re proud of it.
Susie Meserve is the former assistant editor of Technology & Learning.