What is CDE?
The Center for Digital Education is a great resource for districts of any size across the nation. Over the course of the last three years, Omaha Public Schools have used multiple resources from within the Center to assist in our transformation.
Keegan Korf is our Lead Teacher of Digital Citizenship in our partnership with Common Sense Media. Her role, along with our Planned Obsolescence of Device Strategy, is crucial for providing both direction for digital literacy and citizenship for staff and students, as well as community outreach. A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to travel to D.C. and participate in the Large District Fly In activities. To follow, Keegan will present some of the topics that were discussed.
Kecia Ray is a great friend, colleague, and mentor. With her transition to the Center a few years ago, she brought vision for districts on how they should approach digital transformation. Many of the resources outlined below are a part of her vision for success.
Back in 2014, Kecia and I were both named "20 to Watch", along with many other educators, that we keep in touch with today, who are shaping educational technology.
Large District Fly In
Omaha Public Schools is the largest school district in the state of Nebraska, serving twenty percent of our state's student population. You wouldn't think that serving so many students could seem so isolating. We look to our sister district, Lincoln Public Schools, but Lincoln is a step ahead of our district in providing technology access to their students. Omaha is closely following suit, but the challenges we face are not exactly parallel.
We are part of a consortium called the Council of Great City Schools, comprised of the 100 largest school districts in the United States. While we share many commonalities with districts across our great state, we find ourselves faced with more similar challenges to school districts that serve upwards of 300,000 students, as opposed to our state smaller-sized school district.
Large districts are often plagued with challenges that make introducing technology in the classroom a feat in and of itself. Access to affordable Internet at home is increasing but that access may be in the form of a mobile device as opposed to high-speed broadband. Funding for increasing device access in our schools may be more restricted than we see in our small district counterparts, or not available at all. Grant opportunities often fund technology but then, equity is compromised and often, those grants aren't always sustainable in order to create a lifecycle of upgraded technology.
The poverty that our students face creates unique barriers to their learning. Federal programs have been made available in the past to help detract from the impact of these challenges but under our new administration, that funding is now at risk. Inside of our schools, teachers combat these realities every single day. They build relationships with students and open doors to opportunities those students may not see outside the four walls of their classrooms. For educational technology leaders in large school districts, it is important to tap into relationships by bringing people together who share common challenges in order to best meet the needs of our students.
The Center for Digital Education provides an opportunity for representatives from large school districts across the United States to participate in an annual event called the Large District Fly-In. Earlier this month, Rob and I had the opportunity to attend this year's event in Washington, D.C. A valuable highlight was the collaboration among our peers during the "Hot Topic Round Table" discussions. We developed relationships with our tablemates and had awesome discussions with our new friends from Miami-Dade Public Schools, Cypress Fairbanks ISD, and the U.S. Department of Education. Topics addressed the following prompts:
This experience provided not only the chance to build important relationships with our large district peers, but it also provided insight into other ways that we can approach and tackle issues that our large districts face. Some of my takeaways from that experience were:
The Center for Digital Education provided a unique opportunity for large districts to collaborate, advocate on behalf of students from across the country. Their resources engage educators with critical information to support the work we do.
Digital District Submission
Each year the Center honors the top-10 districts in 3 size categories. The survey generates top-10 rankings for districts that excel in the use of technology to govern the district; communicate with students, parents and the community; or improve district operations. One thing I would point out: it is a lengthy process. However, even if you know you have some transformation growth needed, this is a great process to go through each year to determine the areas your district can work on. In my previous district we were fortunate to make the top-10 rankings 4 times.
There are a wealth of activities the Center offers in the area of thought leadership. Whether you are a Superintendent, Chief Academic Officer, or Chief Information Officer there are opportunities for professional growth and networking. Digital Education Leadership Conversation or DELC is an event that I personally take part in that generates great conversation around challenges and initiatives driving education.
This is where the good stuff is. If you visit the Center website, you will find a section called "Papers". This is a great area that you can get digital copies of content that you can use to address and transform your district. Kecia has done a great job of reintroducing both the magazine Converge as well as these into paper form. I have had many of these sent in multiple copies to the district to use in our conversations here in Omaha Public Schools. Here are my favorites:
New York City - Microsoft
What an experience - New York City. I got to hang with some amazing educators and Microsoft leaders. Microsoft has truly stepped up to the plate in education the last couple of years; looking at purpose has become a great model for them. During the showcase after the keynote, I looked around and could literally see the focus: Windows 10S, Minecraft in Education, Mixed Reality, Surface Laptop, and of course Microsoft Classroom experience in Teams. We are fortunate in Omaha Public Schools to be able to work with the Microsoft Development Team on this experience.
One of the most memorable experiences was listening to Satya Nadella discuss his story. He started with his Great Grandmother in India and the decision on which son would go on to education. Satya's Grandfather was the son who got the education, and allowed opportunities to flow down lineage to Satya. His perspective on the value of education, and how technology can empower every person to achieve more, was the focus of his keynotes. "Technology alone can't provide the necessary education. Dedicated Administrators and Teachers, and involved communities are the ones changing education. Technology is the tool that empowers their creativity and their ingenuity."
Here are some pictures from the Microsoft Event.
A huge highlight of my trip was being able to Mystery Skype with my P4K classroom back in Omaha: the Skinner Elementary students that I get the opportunity to spend time with throughout the year. These kids help my heart; I love spending time with them and it was awesome to have them guess where I was at. One added bonus was that we were able to get them BrainPoP next year for free, since we talked Moby into it.
Of course I went to a Yankees game while I was there. Yankees came back to take the lead in the 7th inning, beating the Bluejays.
The Hill - Washington DC
Over the last 4 years our district has been in transformation mode. Much of our success is due to the ability to deploy a robust infrastructure to support the changes we want to see in the classroom. In December of 2014, E-Rate changed it's Category 2 funding to support the proliferation of WiFi in schools. This was key for us in Omaha, along with passing the largest bond issue in Nebraska history in November 2014. Both of these mechanisms allowed the district to move quickly to developing the network experience the district needed for initiatives coming down the road. In just 3 years, we have been able to experience $6.4 million in funding to support our infrastructure and internet capacities.
Keegan Korf, Lead Teacher of Digital Citizenship, and I had the opportunity to tell our story to Congressional members in D.C. It is a great story and is encompassed in this letter and points of pride document below.
An additional highlight of the trip was meeting directly with Senator Fischer. I appreciated how engaged she was in what good things we are doing in Omaha. We discussed many of the issues that we face in education locally, at the state level, as well as nationally. We also got the opportunity to discuss our Omaha Virtual School, the first in Nebraska history, and its ability to provide opportunities to students we hadn't served before.
Finally, we get to providing opportunities for future leaders of OPS. Our LAUNCH program provides existing staff a pipeline to school and district leadership. This last session we were able to introduce the Future Ready Framework and have Tom Murray, Director for Innovation for Future Ready Schools, a project of Alliance for Excellent Education, speak. Tom did an incredible job talking about his experience as a Principal, Director of Technology, and national experience in working with all of the sponsors of Future Ready. We had an incredible positive response from the LAUNCH participants and look forward to introducing the Future Ready Framework here in Omaha, as well as the State of Nebraska.
I am fortunate to be a part of the Future Ready Thought Leadership at the national level. District leaders must recognize the potential of digital tools and align necessary technologies with instructional goals to support teaching and learning. The Future Ready Framework helps align the correct measures and prepares schools and districts to make their best effort in providing a personalized learning experience for their students.
To learn more about Future Ready, click below.
We have an incredible story here at Omaha Public Schools. I invite you to visit our Transformation Site to see this journey.