Damian Nichols Kyrene Noah Johnson

Damian Nichols, left, the IT chief at Kyrene School District, and Noah Johnson, recently hired to oversee security, discuss Kyrene’s extensive digital operations.

Students as young as kindergartners are learning code. Teachers can deliver instruction in ways more dynamic than just lecturing. Administrators have been able to whack electricity costs in half.

For Kyrene School District, the digital age encompasses almost any educational, administrative and safety-related activity you can think of.

The Kyrene Governing Board got a detailed briefing last week on how technology is permeating the activities of the district’s 17,000 students and 2,500 employees.

While the district’s technology chief, Damian Nichols, provided an overview of the broad scope of Kyrene’s digital improvements, technology integration coordinators Jacinta Sorgel and JoAnne Skoglund detailed how those enhancements are revolutionizing classrooms.

“We’re larger than most midsize corporate companies,” Nichols said, noting that the district’s “very large network” encompasses roughly 17,000 devices ranging from laptops and desktops to printers and surveillance cameras.

Sorgel and Skoglund have already conducted “tech integration summits” for at six campuses – Manitas, Mariposa, Paloma, Mirada, Altadena and Pueblo – and will be holding such sessions at the rest of Kyrene’s 25 campuses over the next few years to give teachers a deep dive into new ways of incorporating technology in their classrooms.

The goal is to bring all teachers and students up to standards created by the International Society for Technology in Education, a nonprofit that helps educators use technology to help their students.

Students are not only using that technology to learn subjects that once were accessible only through textbooks and lectures, they’re also learning how to use technology responsibly and effectively.

One of the big projects Nichols’ team implemented this year was updating the district’s data center to track utility costs. The upgrade “has saved us at least 50 percent in power costs,” he told the board.

He said his team is also standardizing a vast range of personnel, financial and student performance data among Kyrene’s campuses “so that we’re able to intelligently make decisions based on the data that we extract.”

Technology also has enabled Kyrene to update its safety and security at its 25 campuses and district headquarters. Besides nearly 2,000 security cameras, Nichols’ team also has been developing interactive maps for each school that will be useful to more than just first responders.

“These are layered maps that show all of the things you would expect to safety and security map to show electrical shutoffs, water shutoffs, where the fire extinguishers are and exits,” Nichols told the board, “but it also shows facilities and technology-related things. You can turn on a layer that shows you where the printers are in the school. You can turn on a layer that shows you where all the air conditioning vents are.”

The maps provide “360-degree photos of every single classroom and hallway in Kyrene,” he said.

“So a principal can now, without having to dig through 120 cameras on their campus, they can pull up a map, look at a picture of a camera icon, click it and see the live video or click it and see a view of what’s going on in the classroom or click it and see where the nearest exit is,” he said. “The possibilities are endless.”

Kyrene’s digital evolution also is impacting the classroom in a number of ways that go far beyond the Smartboards that teachers have been using now for more than a decade.

Sorgel said that by 2023, the goal is to integrate technology in all lessons and subjects and to make sure “every teacher in our district is able to successfully create and promote a dynamic digital age learning classroom for their students.”

Technology is making it possible for students at all grade levels to do more than simply read about a subject or see a static picture related to whatever they’re studying, Sorgel and Skoglund explained in an interview with AFN.

“If they’re studying, say, geography, they can go and look at videos involving the country that they’re looking at,” Sorgel explained.

But equally important is teaching students how to use technology responsibly, Sorglund and Sorgel said.

“It’s not free reign on technology,” Sorgel said, noting that teachers are instructed on “being critical and picking those good sources for students and helping them – being their tour guide through this process.”

In turn, students are learning how to make multi-media projects, incorporating images and videos in words and sentences.

The result of this infusion of technology means that students are “not contained in that classroom wall,” Skoglund said.

“Now students are becoming in charge of their own learning,” she explained, adding that there’s also an emphasis on teaching students “how to find good information” and assess if it’s valid information.

“They’re more actively learning,” she said. “It’s not just to sitting, being passive and waiting for information….It’s opening up worlds to them besides just a textbook.”

Sorgel and Skoglund work with a designated “site lead” on each campus who basically serves as a liaison between them and the rest of the school’s faculty.

That coordinated approach is aimed at giving students “21st century skills because that’s what is expected” as they advance through school and eventually enter the workforce.

Kyrene students are “utilizing technology effectively and using it to be a problem solver, critical thinker, communicator, all those things,” Sorgel said.

They cautioned, however, that the digital age hasn’t replaced some of the classroom and homework requirements that have been around longer than computers have been.

“There are addition facts, there are multiplication facts,” Sorgel said. “They still need to practice spelling words and so there’s still that.”

At the school board meeting, Sorgel said that as the technology summits continue and more teachers become more adept at utilizing the increasingly growing array of digital applications being developed in education, Kyrene will be furthering one of the goals set out in its mission statement.

“It is our belief,” she said, “that if our teachers can successfully bring back what they’ve learned from these sessions and address these goals with their students and utilize the tools we have, that we can reach that district vision for every single one of our students – that they become problem solvers and creators and visionaries of the future.”

 

(1) comment

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