As a part of our 5 year Strategic Plan, the district wanted to change the approach of our persistently low achieving schools. Through Mr. Evans leadership, the decision was made to look at high technology strategies to engage teachers, students, and community. Below are two aligned approaches of how we addressed two turn around school programs. First, we will highlight Wakonda Elementary with community engagement involving a high technology mobile learning unit, and the second post highlighting Kennedy Elementary.
Wakonda Elementary is located in North Omaha and provides learning opportunities to around 300 students. In 2015, the district made the decision to apply for a federal school improvement grant. That grant, totaling $1.6 million, provided additional supports in staffing, professional development, and technology. The school hired three coaches to work with teachers on technology, student data and student behavior issues. The mission for change includes a technology initiative and a longer school day. Wakonda students will attend school from 8:20 a.m. to 4 p.m., 25 minutes longer than most OPS elementary students. This provided the time for teachers to participate in much needed development activities like Professional Learning Communities (PLC). Our approach to PLCs with Wakonda was to take that high technology aspect to bring teacher needs, data, and feedback to the next level. Partnering with Microsoft, we developed with them PLCs in Modern Groups inside of Office 365. Much of their experience is highlighted in the video below:
Teachers worked through this newly defined environment for a whole semester before beginning to introduce the 1:1 student deployment program. Each teacher was provided a Surface Pro and a wireless display adapter that provided:
The selection process for student devices for me was unique. We decided to take a student centered approach, giving students the opportunity to demo and select the device that best fits their learning environment. That process is outlined in the Sway below and was also highlighted in a Microsoft Blog:
The introduction of these devices into the classroom was unique. Our district instructional technology trainers began working with Rebecca Chambers, the building's instructional tech, to develop a gradual release model. This model allowed a slow implementation that provided the necessary training and classroom management both for the teacher and the students. The effectiveness of these initiatives has resulted in Wakonda being named aMicrosoft Showcase School.
Community and Access
A big piece of Wakonda's journey is community engagement. As a part of our journey to move to a digital curriculum strategy, access has been on the forefront of needs. This year, we have partnered with both Cox (Access) and Discovery ED (Digital Curriculum) to do just that. Cox has been immensely valuable in both working with providing access to families in our high poverty areas with low cost internet, and looking at innovative ways we can engage students. In early 2016, we discussed a joint application for a grant that would allow students to access WiFi throughout Omaha, but would also renovate a bus to become an engaging experience in the community. Through our work with Common Sense Media, we would provide digital citizenship and digital parenting learning opportunities to both the communities of Wakonda and Kennedy students. In September 2016, we were awarded the grant and work has begun on the mobile learning unit. As you can see, it has been designed as a flexible learning space that signifies the 21st Century learning every student needs:
By providing both access via Cox's public WiFi, as well as targeting the areas that don't have a signal via the mobile learning unit, the result is providing access where it is needed. The renovation is scheduled to be completed sometime in Spring 2017.
The next post will be about Kennedy Elementary and their journey to turn around a school that is a part of a much larger community engagement program.