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Navigating a 2-year tech transformation

4 min read

Voice of the Educator

It’s cliché but true: Change is hard. It requires belief, persistence, support and sometimes a bit of good luck. Change can be especially difficult to achieve in schools. There are myriad stakeholders with students’ best interest in mind, but they oftentimes have different opinions as to how exactly student success is realized. We all agree on the desired outcome, but our formulas are different.

Until a few years ago, education technology was nonexistent in North Providence School District’s formula for student achievement.

Time to modernize

Walking into one of the district’s classrooms two years ago, it was as if time stood still. A budgetary crisis, combined with a limited vision for technology integration, left the district with bare-bones technology. Some classrooms were just recently outfitted with a computer, and others in the schools were severely outdated. An email system was introduced by the interim superintendent the year before my arrival, and not all teachers were using the system.

Beginning my career as an early-childhood educator and then a curriculum director at another school district in Rhode Island, technology was influential in the development of schools. When I started as superintendent of North Providence, however, I knew we would be implementing the new technology plan from scratch.

In addition to some creative budget work, and support from our school committee and town leaders, we secured grant funding through a local philanthropist and immediately initiated a systematic deployment of technology throughout our elementary schools. Our budget this year focused on bringing technology-enabled classrooms to both middle schools. In a short period of time, elementary and middle-school classrooms were equipped with interactive whiteboards, document cameras and more computers than ever before. Next year, the high school will receive a total upgrade.

PARCC prep

With PARCC assessments on the horizon, we knew North Providence students needed to develop formal technology skills, such as keyboarding and computer manipulation, in order to be successful while taking the online assessments. Our first step was implementing EasyTech digital literacy curriculum.

Having used the curriculum at my former district, I knew the program would effectively get our students up to speed with their technology skills. We evolved our libraries into media centers, and our librarians played a vital role in helping students build their skills.

After taking less than 10 lessons, our third grade students completed PARCC pilot assessments. Since students only had a few weeks working with computers at school, we worried the online format would confuse students. The students were actually very comfortable with the testing.

Common vision

With so much change in such a short amount of time, we were sensitive to how students, parents and teachers would react to the ambitious roadmap. In one word: enthusiastically. North Providence has a unique group of teachers. They’re so hungry for the technology and additional curriculum resources. They’re extremely receptive, and the level of engagement with new technology and curriculum is remarkable to see.

We informally surveyed a few fourth-grade students about their experiences using the computers and new programs during library sessions. From their overwhelmingly enthusiastic response, we knew we were on the right track.

Parents, too, have been a driving force behind this change. They know their children need these skills to be successful in college and beyond. It’s been amazing to watch our community come together on this initiative.

Melinda Smith is superintendent at North Providence School District in Rhode Island. Before joining North Providence, she was curriculum director at Lincoln Public Schools for seven years. North Providence implemented’s EasyTech digital literacy curriculum to spark its technology transformation.

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