Restructuring for Digital
Virginia Beach City Public Schools’ dynamic leadership team oversees eighty-six schools, sixty-seven thousand students and almost fifteen thousand staff. Their shift from traditional textbooks and content to digital included a paradigm shift in district administration. A trend we’re just beginning to see with more schools and districts.
Two years ago, to better tie everything together, they moved the Office of Instructional technology into the Department of Teaching and Learning. “It truly was the time. Tech was no longer only a conversation about boxes and wires in closets and infrastructure and a closer relationship was needed with the Teaching and Learning staff,” stated the Director of Instructional Technology, Bill Johnsen. “Of course, we still have all that, under the Chief Information Officer, but now that technology is fully embedded in our classrooms, my office has moved under the Chief Academic Officer, Amy Cashwell.”
Virginia Beach, like many other districts across the U.S. in years past, had what they called “Computer Resource Specialists” who were teachers who knew tech. They were under I/T, not academics. They were part of the school system to help with computer labs and a relatively small number of computers in classrooms. “I look back now and that was easy, they were the first-line of technical support and instructional support,” stated Johnsen. “That position served the Division very well for many years when there was a computer lab and then maybe 2, 3 or 4 computers per classroom.”
“Then,” he says, “everything exploded—at first there was about one device for five students. Now it’s 1-to-1 (or more) plus interactive whiteboards, plus, plus, plus as you can imagine.” Technology became the channel in which education was delivered.
I/T administrators in Virginia Beach, as with most school districts, were trained in tech and networks, not necessarily as teachers and classroom instruction. “We quickly recognized our organization no longer matched reality of where our teachers and students were at and where we needed to go,” stated Johnsen.
The Department of Instructional Technology was moved under the CAO. There is at least one Instructional Technology Specialist in every school who work with teachers to implement tech into their instructional processes—they’re instructional coaches who in fact work as co-teachers. The State Standards of Quality (SSQ) require one ITS (Instructional Technology Specialist) per 1,000 students. Johnson clarified Virginia Beach’s stance and intentions: “Based on the standards we should have sixty-nine, but that’s not good enough, we currently have eighty-five, and, if the budget goes through, we may be able to add six more which will give us a full time ITS at almost every school all-day, every-day. On that count, we’re staffed better than most every place I’ve talked to.”
“With our restructuring, we now have trained people—our ITS’s—who can coach and model the effective use of tech in the classrooms at every campus,” stated Cashwell. “It has been one of our key shifts. We realized we had misguided our teachers in the beginning. One shot PD is not workable. What transformation has required for us is job-embedded PD. Our success is these ITS’s in the buildings modelling and coaching the teachers every day to really transform instruction.”
The Superintendent is behind them, the board is behind them and it looks as if Virginia Beach City Public Schools has become a district to watch.
The type of shift Virginia Beach has done to create an entire shadow network of co-teachers with technology to reinforce the front lines of teaching is a mode that a lot of the software companies went into as far back as the 1960’s with engineers put into field positions behind all of the sales staff. This sort of restructure layers the levels of increasing tech intelligence behind the front lines of delivery, and has been a highly workable model—already in other industries—to create sustainable operations.
Story excerpted from the Special Report on Digital Transition Sustainability. Download complete report.