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November 23, 2012

Three area districts top national list on education technology

by Randy Ziegenfuss

This article originally appeared in the Morning Call and was written by Melinda Rizzo.

View the original source for this post.

Quakertown, Southern Lehigh and Salisbury will serve as models for other districts.

Three area school districts are among 20 nationwide selected as leaders in education technology by Project Red, a research effort founded by Intel .

Quakertown Community, Southern Lehigh and Salisbury school districts were chosen from among more than 1,000 surveyed to serve as Signature Districts based on their innovative use of technology in the classroom, the districts said.

Project Red is dedicated to helping school districts increase student achievement while reducing costs through the use of existing and emerging technology. It is sponsored by Intel, The Pearson Foundation and Smart Technologies.

As part of the effort, Project Red conducted a national study of education technology in 2010 to find out how technology impacts student performance and which innovations work better than others, according to the non-profit’s website.

Among the key findings: that a 1:1 ratio of student to computer works best as long as districts are also doing such things as properly training teachers and incorporating technology in core subjects on a weekly basis.

All three area districts have invested in technology, including laptop computers and other devices, to put the tools into students’ hands over the past three years.

Last year, Southern Lehigh implemented a 1:1 Macbook ratio for high school students, and has a 2:1 student-to-computer ratio for the rest of the district, according to Ken Jordan, elementary education and instructional technology director for Southern Lehigh.

Salisbury is in its second year of upgrading technology, including a 1:1 laptop ratio for students, and Quakertown is in its fourth year of rolling out district-wide technology including an in-house cyber program, Virtual High School program and 1:1 laptop initiative at the high school.

“Of the 1,000 districts surveyed, Pearson developed a 1,400-point checklist of items districts should be doing, which is further distilled to 10 key initiatives. We are already doing a lot of those things,” said Tom Murray, director of cyber education and technology for Quakertown Community School District.

As Signature Districts, Salisbury, Southern Lehigh And Quakertown will receive support and guidance from Project Red.

They will be encouraged to align their efforts with research-based strategies developed by Project Red, according to the non-profit’s website.

For three years, each district will publish its findings to the Signature District community and will serve as best-practice models for other districts interested in successful technology planning.

As part of the effort, each district is grouped into “cohorts” based on size and where the districts are in their technology development plans.

Quakertown’s cohort includes districts in Iowa and Idaho, Michigan and Missouri, and Murray said there’s a lot to be learned from those outside the area.

Southern Lehigh and Salisbury are part of a cohort that includes a district in Missouri, according to Randy Ziegenfuss, Salisbury’s assistant superintendent.

Salisbury currently has a 2:1 ratio of laptops at the elementary schools, and 1:1 for secondary students.

“Our current technology plan saves $60,000 a year, which is significant,” Ziegenfuss said.

Area administrators agree being selected by Project Red is an honor, and being part of a network of public educators from across the U.S. has several advantages.

“Much of the contact I have on a daily basis now is with people in Idaho and Iowa, so what we can share and learn from each other is pretty huge. Even five years ago, that would not have been possible,” Murray said.

“We are all working toward the same things, like increasing student achievement and reducing our costs,” Ziegenfuss said.

Murray and Ziegenfuss said the Project Red selection process was rigorous, with a number of elimination rounds.

“For our three districts to be included in this out of 20 from across the country is significant, and I believe it says something about our commitment to student achievement and preparing students for the 21st century here in Pennsylvania,” Ziegenfuss said.

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