When I became the Technology Coordinator five years ago, Harper was at 5% Network Compliance with CPS Network Standards. Through much hard work, diligence, and perseverance, my small team, which initially included my technology engineer, our LSC president, and a few students, upgraded our network of computers and continued to manage them. Much to my dismay, two years ago, my Technology Engineer was sent on his way, our LSC Chairman’s son graduated, so he was no longer on the LSC. And both he and my Tech Engineer were told by the principal that they were no longer welcomed at Harper. This left me and one student tech assistant to keep things running. By the end of this school year, we had reached 92.4% Network Compliance. I, also, had our network merged with the Instructional (INSTR) Domain. Now every staff member and student has a personal username and password to log into the INSTR domain, as well as a folder for storing work. This folder can be accessed from any computer in the building, eliminating the need for carrying around a floppy disk or flash drive.
There are approximately 400 desktop computers in four full labs, four mini-math labs, and two mini-reading labs. Most classrooms have three to five working computers, and all of these connect to the Internet. We also have three mobile lab carts, two of them containing thirty laptops and one with twenty-four. These connect to our wi-fi network, which is available everywhere in the building.
Considering that Harper is a Probation school with some of the lowest standardized test scores of all the Chicago Public High Schools, the high level of network compliance and maintenance doesn’t match up with the low level of academic performance. For years I have maintained that computers and the Internet can be used as the hook to capture our students and greatly assist with their academic advancement.
This would require that technology be integrated at all levels and infused throughout lessons that were mostly project based. Besides all of the other factors previously mentioned that keep us weighed down, one very important factor must be addressed, and that is the low level of understanding and subsequent support of technology integration of the administrators at Harper. Those who should be establishing and guiding the policies and organizing the plans for implementing and training for integration of technology in the classroom are the primary barriers to technology integration at Harper High School.
During my first year with the present administration, the principal preferred having no communication directly with me. He established a hierarchy through which one had to travel to reach him. I had to go through our always overwhelmed, too-busy Business Manager. Even recommendations that came to me directly from the Office of Technology Services had to go through the Business Manager, as the principal’s management style kept him fairly well insulated from receiving information directly. This might be fine for a corporate bureaucracy, where you don’t want workers on the assembly line to waltz into the CEO’s Office whenever they felt the need. But managing a school, an environment where information needs to be shared and transferred up and down the food chain quickly and efficiently certainly does not require a top down bureaucratic chain of command.
I don’t want to use this space for griping, but more for sharing information. About my principal, I can only say that in four years he hasn’t learned to sit down and discuss and learn from the professionals that he works with. The prevailing attitude is that we work for him, that we are his subordinates. Some of us have taught for more years than he has and have remained in the classroom by choice. We share on this journey of educating our students at Harper. We need a principal, who is a co-worker. A good leader would allow these sage educators to guide the curriculum. Perhaps even seek out the advise of those educators in the school who have been very instrumental in bringing innovation to the curriculum, including the instructional technologist. For the past four years, the person who was expected to guide the school’s curriculum was someone who would fall into deep yawns when technology integration was discussed. Too much chalk dust dulls a brain.
Recently, we stepped up our use of technology for preparing for the standardized test. But even this simple exercise in skill drill was implemented inefficiently. Let me explain. KeyTrain, one software application used for test drill has built in data generators. These, if used correctly, could guide the curriculum for 11th grade math, social studies, science, and English. But this would require that 11th grade teachers focus exclusively on the test prep. application, evaluate the weekly results, provide the 11th grade teachers with the ongoing training and time to work with the data and make adjustments to their lessons based on this ongoing flow of data. Freshmen and sophomores could practice sections of this work taken from the print manuals for each type of test. But use of lab time should be reserved for juniors. This was not done.
Instead of approaching it in such a focused and instructional manner, very valuable lab time was taken up by including 9th and 10th grade classes in the schedule. Some of these classes left their computer labs, where they could have used the applications throughout the school year integrated into their curriculum, to come to the school’s general lab. This made absolutely no sense and when I inquired about this, the response was that this was done for monitoring purposes. But there was no monitoring done, except to check to see whether classes showed up. What occurred while classes were in the lab varied at all levels from completely wasting time socializing, while clicking on any answer without reading (my monitoring software allows me to observe individual work stations) to a few teachers actually working with their students and keeping them focused. But most teachers did not know how to look at the data or where it was located and what it meant. They were not trained until the beginning of March, a little more than one month before the test was to be taken, and five months after Test Prep. began. Why wait until the beginning of March to train teachers and allow them time to look at the data?
At this point, many students were all over the place, some skipping easier levels to completely fail more difficult levels four times. Data must be looked at from the very beginning and adjustments made. There was absolutely no direction provided.
Recently, there was an interview with our principal on local Fox television news. He seemed surprised that test scores had dropped the year before. I don’t know why, I’ve been telling him for several years that we are approaching the process without using the software as it was designed.
This is directly related to leadership that absolutely ignores those who are considered subordinates.