Award: Withrow Award
I. Leadership (500 words – currently at 361)
How did this nominee demonstrate effective leadership in using information technologies to increase opportunities and accessibility for student learning?
As the top IT leader in her school district, Teresa Kratzer has been learning how to do more with less for Beech Grove City Schools in Indiana. Each year, the economic situation seems dire with less money being available for education, let alone technology. Teresa has found a way to increase technology purchases with a smaller budget. Her first line of business: re-design the technology infrastructure to make it less expensive to maintain and last longer.
In order to re-design the technology infrastructure, Kratzer assembled a team of 35 individuals from all facets of the district – technology teachers, non-technology teachers, operations, administrators and other staff. After much collaboration, the group identified that they needed to consolidate servers, create faster point-to-point connections and replace virus-prone, costly PCs with less expensive, easier to maintain thin clients.
The team collaborated on the benefits and usage scenarios of consolidating servers and how thin clients from Wyse Technology could be used in the classroom. In the end, the group presented its consolidated server-thin client proof of concept to the superintendent, the board, and the wider community through a local, public broadcast. The $250,000 budget was immediately approved – something that had never happened before.
Kratzer didn’t stop there. While technology is often seen as a means to an end, once technology is in place in schools, the next step is to ensure that it is integrated into the curriculum and that the teachers know how to best use it. Kratzer applied for and won a grant from the Indiana Department of Education for $220,000 in September 2009. That grant money will be used for two integration specialists that will train teachers on how to use the technology. In both of these instances, Kratzer has demonstrated effective leadership by making sure that the public investment in technology pays dividends for years to come.
The bottom line of any technology in education initiative is to better the academic results of the students. The new technology infrastructure that Kratzer spearheaded is helping students and teachers take advantage of the latest web-based virtual learning environments, both to enrich classroom learning and to provide students with a way to earn additional credits.
II. Community Building (500 words – currently at 270)
How did this nominee build community, with parents, teachers and educational leaders to effect the desired changes?
Kratzer’s approach of getting buy-in from all levels of the community was just the first step in her plan to upgrade the technology infrastructure. The process of using a team to research and present the plan inherently created a model whereby implementing change was disseminated across functional departments in the school district. While educating users was a challenge, Kratzer found that communication was the best line of defense. “When people understand what you’re working toward and how you plan to achieve it, they’re much more willing to support you than if you just impose on them a new way of working.”
One of the advantages of the server consolidation-thin client project is that the end-users don’t really notice the change. But, that didn’t stop Kratzer from making sure that the end-users still fully understand how to use it. She wanted to make sure that she didn’t overlook something that might seem easy to the tech person, but is difficult for the layman. Kratzer conducted Q&A sessions, and other training sessions so that teachers knew how they could log-on to the new system remotely.
Finally, Kratzer and the superintendent are creating relationships with the broader community. The school district and the city have the same goal: create a wireless infrastructure and implement 1:1 computing where every child can be connected online. Kratzer’s group is partnering with the mayor to deliver upon that goal. The community is giving their assent. On November 3, 2009, the community overwhelmingly voted for a property tax referendum which will continue to fund technology in the district. Other nearby districts weren’t so lucky, as their referendums failed.
III. Innovative Use of Technology (500 words – currently at 493)
How did the nominee demonstrate effective leadership in using information technologies to increase opportunities and accessibility for student learning?
Beech Grove turned to a cloud computing model of server consolidation and virtual clients instead of PCs to slash maintenance costs, improve teacher access to computers, and provide students access to online credit course recovery programs to improve graduation rates.
Beech Grove’s existing IT system had delivered the basic educational and administrative support, but it required too much maintenance. It took a staff of seven full-time people just to maintain the system, which comprised of a server in each of the district’s six buildings and approximately 1,000 PCs, 200 MacBook Laptops, 250 Apple iPod Touch and 30 HP Mini Laptops. This left no resources for improving the system or to provide curriculum learning applications for use in the classrooms and labs. At the same time, teacher technology needs were growing. They needed to log in to the system quickly from their classrooms, access the grading and assessment applications from home, and leverage Web-based virtual learning applications in the classroom to not only enrich classroom learning but to provide students ways to earn additional credits that otherwise would have prevented them from graduating.
While the technology needs kept growing, the technology budget for the district was being reduced. The only way for the IT group to reduce maintenance spending was to break the cycle of PC replacement. Ensuring security was another concern. With the district’s old PCs, a virus once shut down the district system for five weeks, causing tremendous disruption to teachers and students. Teresa Kratzer and her team went to work and created their vision of not only fixing these problems, but doing so on a tight budget. Together with Integrity Network Solutions of Indianapolis, they mapped out a new system with servers consolidated into one data center, faster point-to-point network connections and thin clients from Wyse Technology.
Kratzer saw cloud computing and adoption of the thin client model as a way to solve the challenges the district faced, while gaining additional benefit – being able to save money years down the road in case future budgets are in jeopardy. Already, the district is saving $200,000 per year because they can have one person maintaining 1,000 desktops, as opposed to one person maintaining 200 desktops. They expect additional energy savings because thin clients use a fraction of the energy of a PC. Kratzer estimates $30,000 a year in energy savings alone.
Beech Grove City Schools implemented 300 Wyse V10L thin clients throughout the districts schools in addition to creating two new computer labs in the middle school and high school. Wyse Device Manager (WDM) software improved IT efficiency during implementation and ongoing operation. Integrity Network Solutions conducted the initial set-up. Four district IT staff and two high school students swapped out more than 200 aging PCs as well as setting up two new computer labs outfitted with 30 thin clients each. Now, students and teachers use Wyse thin clients to access online Web services, student information systems, library programs and assessment testing programs.
IV. Impact on Learning (500 words – currently at 339)
What is the major impact of this nominee’s achievement?
The low cost and versatility of the thin clients enabled the district to help students who don’t have enough credits to advance a grade or to graduate. In the two new labs, students now have access to Plato, an online course credit recovery program. If students can’t get enough credits from class work, they can take courses on Plato and earn the credits they need. Increasing graduation rates is an impressive metric for a technology implementation.
Now that the cloud-based system and Wyse thin clients have been in use for more than a full school year, Kratzer and her team are delighted with how it has reduced maintenance requirements and enabled them to offer new learning capabilities to teachers and students.
In grades 4-6, the district now can offer an online reading recovery program, called Read 180, for struggling students that need additional help in literacy. In addition, the district utilizes DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) – a set of procedures and measures for assessing the acquisition of early literacy skills. In order to implement the DIBELS program, Beech Grove uses Palm Treo handheld devices to record what students read to find out what words they are missing. The district also is a pilot school for Acuity, an online diagnostic standards-based assessment testing system. All of these resources are now available to Beech Grove City Schools teachers and students thanks to the Wyse thin client devices where many students can easily share machines. According to Kratzer, the district couldn’t take advantage of these resources before because the decentralized environment was too complex.
For teachers, not only do they now have access to educational learning curriculum that wasn’t available to them previously, but they now have a faster response time to log-in to email. What used to take 15 minutes, now takes just seconds. The increase in efficiency for teachers is invaluable. In addition, teachers are able to log in remotely to complete grading and reports as opposed to staying late at school or coming in on weekends.
V. Private/Public Sector Partnership (500 words – currently 309)
How did this nominee develop effective public and/or private partnerships and policies that provide connectivity to learners in schools?
Kratzer has developed a partnership mindset where what she is doing at her school can be applied to other schools as well. She approached Holy Name, the local parochial school, in addition to a school district 100 miles away, Benson County Schools, in order to create a virtual network to support professional development and to develop curriculum. They are using software called Moodle in which teachers and staff can conduct online chats so individual schools can learn about the new technology without leaving their physical buildings.
Kratzer implemented another innovative use of technology drawing upon an existing technology in place throughout the district. With Novell Groupwise email as the district’s email system, Kratzer worked with teachers to implement an Internet telephony pen-pal project using SkyPro. SkyPro’s softphones connect to Wyse thin clients and Beech Grove students communicate with students in Italy, promoting literacy through the use of technology, as well as teaching students about the global community and cultural understanding.
An all too often scenario that school districts face are budget cuts. The Beech Grove community found themselves in this dire situation in the fall of 2009. Unless voters passed a property tax referendum, the district would have to cut technology and bus transportation. Relying on a technology infrastructure already in place, Kratzer and her team leveraged the SkyPro technology to assemble a mobile call center in less than an afternoon. With the mobile call center in place, volunteers made calls to more than 600 voters in the community to educate them on the referendum and the impact of their vote. As a result of this unique public outreach campaign, the Beech Grove City referendum passed and technology and bus transportation will continue to be provided at the district. It is worth noting that other nearby districts had similar referendums on the ballot this fall and their referendums failed.