Tech in HSE Schools: The Feedback Cycle

Technology is tough. Securing technology is even tougher, but when the technology is used by kids, it is important for technology to not only work, but to work in a way that eliminates unnecessary risks.

One of the biggest concerns about is use of technology in schools is around the potential for kids to be exposed to bad things. The other concern that is raised centers on putting expensive technology into the hands of little kids. One of the first questions I asked when the concept of having elementary kids in our schools use computers (iPads), was related to the idea of having 5 and 6 year olds responsible for getting a device to and from school.

Four years later, when the program was ready to roll out to the elementary schools, a new set of parents stepped up and asked the same questions. Fortunately, the school administration listened and made changes that didn’t require the younger kids to bring the devices back and forth to school.

Even looking beyond the youngest kids, technology is tough. It has problems. Most people are not tech-savvy experts that can address electronic issues. Additionally, if you give a kid something, then generally speaking, you can expect at some point it will be broken. That goes for computers such as iPads as well.

So when a school puts 21,000+ devices in place, it is safe to expect there will be issues. The question becomes, how can the issues be reduced or alleviated?

Communication and Open Standards

First is to open up communication so that you get the community helping to identify issues. In our community we have numerous people representing every facet of technology. Those people have insights that can help alleviate problems before they happen as well as insights that can help resolve issues in hours instead of months. The school system has to be ready to asking for help from the community early and often. This would prevent things such as the new projection system in the high school from sitting for well over a year without being used because the technology changed before it was even used. In fact, this is a case where the community had suggested open standards be used, but the decision was made to go with a proprietary solution. (Can we say, “We told you so”?)

As a result of community push-back, one of the efforts put forth by the school administration more recently was to set up Technology Committees to help provide feedback. These committees have started meeting and will continue to meet over the coming months. The initial meetings were less about technology and more focused on teaching methods, so the jury is still out on whether these will truly help open two way communication that will lead to technology improvements. I’m a member of one of these committees, so I’ll be sharing related thoughts in  future posts.

Understanding the Individual Issues

Additionally, it is critical that with that awareness, that there is an understanding of the individual issues happening to each student. If feedback isn’t collected, then how can you know what is truly happening? While many issues are seen within the schools, because technology is being brought home, many issues are not seen. As such, it is critical for the school system to do everything they can to make sure they are aware of what is happening beyond their own walls.

There is no automated means that I’m currently aware of within the school system to report issues that people have with their student computers or the schools technology. There is, however, an independent group that has created a means for collecting feedback. You can access the form for reporting a problem at the following link:

HSE Parents Voice iPad Issue Reporting Tool

This tool has not been available for very long, but it has already started collecting data. I recently talked with the group running the collection app about the data, and am glad to see that they’ve shared the initial results. You can review their initial findings at the following link:

Parents Voice iPad Findings Initial Report

This is just their early results. Because this has been in use at the beginning of the school year, it would be expected that the issues will be higher. The initial findings are indicating that issues and concerns are spread across a variety of areas, so it will be interesting to see what they learn over time. As kids and parents use the devices more, will issues go down or will they increase? Only time will tell.

In Summary

Technology is a tool to be used to help with teaching. Just like a pencil can have its lead broken, technology also breaks. Just like it is better to buy a standard pencil so you know you’ll be able to find a sharper that works, it is also good to use technology that follows standards. The way you reduce the issues is by understanding what issues have happened in the past. By collecting data and feedback, hopefully our schools will evolve the technology used to what is most practical and appropriate for the learning objectives. Until then, groups like HSE Parents Voice and many of the HSE parents (including myself) will keep providing the feedback to try to make it better.

Teacher Retention at HSE Schools

WRTV 6 did a story on teacher retention in Indiana schools today. They indicated that 18% of the teachers and administrators left their school in a single year. That puts the retention on average at 82%. With over 12,426 educators, that is a large turnover.

You might think that HSE Schools are immune to this turnover; however, you’d be wrong. We have teachers leaving regularly as well, which is why I’ve raised it as an issue while running for a school board position. While some turn over is expected as a result of retiring or other reasons, there are also those teachers that state they are leaving for reasons such as being tired of “teaching to tests” or the teacher who feels they are not being heard. Some also leave to make more money in other districts.

It was reported that 8.5% of teachers in Indiana left for reasons other than retirement. Before saying 8.5% doesn’t seem bad, that’s over 1,000 educators in Indiana.

You can find the reasons that WRTV 6 found by reading their article at:

http://www.theindychannel.com/longform/call-6-thousands-of-indiana-teachers-leaving-the-classroom

There are a few things that are concerning in the story. This includes the comment that Indiana schools are not tracking why educators are leaving. This is a topic I’m sure will be addressed by the administration as it would be mind boggling to think this isn’t being tracked.

Glenda Ritz’s comment about taking the issue to the General Assembly seems extremely odd.  Why would you not simply tell the school administrators to start tracking why teachers are leaving so you can work to retain those that remain? Any administrator deserving of the role should already be tracking or aware of this. If it takes getting a group of politicians to tell you it is okay to do a basic management function, then we have a bigger task ahead of us if we want to fix issues in our schools. Furthermore, creating a panel to review the causes is great, but if that panel fails to ask any of the other 12,400+ educators questions, then the last work that should be used to describe the effectiveness is “proactive”.

On the positive, discussions around teacher pay as well as on how teacher evaluations are done makes a lot of sense. These are topics that do need to be addressed at the state and district level.

The article actually includes retention rates for Indiana schools. I’ve not verified the data with what our administration, but I’ll assume that RTV6 has verified this. Here are numbers for some of the HSE Schools for 2014-15. Note that our average from these schools is 81%, just under the state average of 82%.  Nine of the schools scored below the state average.

School Name

Retained

Total Retention Rate
571 Brooks School Elementary 45 57 79%
572 Cumberland Road Elem School 25 34 74%
573 Durbin Elementary School 19 25 76%
574 Fall Creek Elementary School 34 40 85%
575 Fall Creek Intermediate School 43 65 66%
576 Fishers Elementary School 27 27 100%
577 Fishers High School 141 157 90%
578 Fishers Junior High School 54 67 81%
580 Geist Elementary School 35 42 83%
581 Hamilton SE Int and Jr High Sch 31 67 46%
582 Hamilton Southeastern HS 133 162 82%
583 Harrison Parkway Elementary School 33 35 94%
584 Hoosier Road Elementary School 37 42 88%
585 Lantern Road Elementary School 29 32 91%
586 New Britton Elementary School 30 36 83%
587 Riverside Intermediate School 52 60 87%
588 Riverside Junior High 60 71 85%
589 Sand Creek Elementary 32 46 70%
590 Sand Creek Intermediate School 54 64 84%
591 Thorpe Creek Elementary 36 45 80%
950 1174 81%

 

Clearly there is work to be done in the area of retaining good teachers.

Live Streaming the HSE School Board Meetings

One of the ways I find that I differ from the other candidates is that I haven’t waited to see if I get elected before trying to address issues that are important. I have been attending board meetings, asking questions, and pushing for change well before my name was filed to run for a school board position.

Simply put, the issues don’t wait for elections.

This year alone, HSE has had a referendum discussed, a roll-out of the iPads in the elementary schools, two bonds approved (totally around $15.5 million above and beyond the referendum and state money), issues with technology, changes to school policies and handbooks, continued loss of good teachers, and a multitude of other topics. In the case of the ten million dollar bond passed earlier this year, I was one of the few people to stand and ask a question about its purpose. Similarly, in this last school board meeting, I was the only candidate that was not an incumbent to raise a question about the spending. I’ve asked the administrators, school tech lead, and board members questions on other topics as well. These range from discussions on why open standard tech wasn’t used to why there was a push to eliminate paper magazine subscriptions in the elementary schools.

On topic I’ve questioned has come up a few times by other candidates. This is the topic of live streaming HSE School Board meetings.

In early July, I created a page on Facebook specifically for streaming the HSE school board meetings. While board meetings are “meetings in public”, out of consideration, I asked Dr. Bourff if I could live stream and record the meetings. I stated that I would take care of the recording, streaming, and any editing with the target media source being a live stream on a Facebook page. There would be no need for any effort by the school board or administration.

The idea of streaming the meetings is not a new one, and one that it was clear Dr. Bourff had already considered. As such, Dr. Bourff was able to provide insights toward the downside of streaming school board meetings.

By filming a meeting, there was a real concern that the level of discussion by members of the board could decrease. With a camera rolling, it would be clear that their questions and words were being caught on film. Statements that were made could be viewed differently than they intended. This could diminish discussions, and thus negatively impact results. For example, a board member might choose to avoid asking for clarification so they wouldn’t seem to lack knowledge on a topic. Because it is critical to keep the discussion free flowing among the board members, having to worry about a rolling camera could be a detriment. Having been to a large number of board meetings as an audience member, there have been a few meetings where the limited knowledge around technology was hard to watch. Had the board members been recorded, it truly could have not reflected the best on a couple of them.

Live streaming also has the potential to cause grandstanding by members of the community. While this sounds easy to control, I have facilitated a number of live online events as well as meet-ups. As such, I understand how grandstanding is actually a very serious concern.

The opposite of grandstanding is also an issue. A number of people have attended board meetings to present on topics that were sensitive, and yet very valid concerns. In a few of these cases, I do believe that the presenters might have avoided making their comments if they knew it was being recorded and streamed live.

There are other issues with streaming as well.

The reality is, school board meetings are held in public. As such, there is nothing that prevents a person from streaming the events now. Live streaming has become so simple that nearly anyone can do it with a smartphone and a Facebook account.

At this time, I have not pushed to stream the board meetings even though they are open to the public. There are two core reasons for this. First is to respect Dr. Bourff’s request to not cause the disruption in the board meetings. Second, and more importantly, not enough people have indicated they care or would watch a live stream. While streaming sounds like a great idea, when Dr. Bourff streamed an event earlier this year related to the referendum, the engagement was also extremely low. Having experience with live chats and streamed events online has often shown the same results.

While there are people that would watch the stream or an on-demand versions of the board meetings, the level of active interest just isn’t there to justify pushing against Dr. Bourff’s statements at this time. I’ve raised the topic, and over time will bring it forward again whether elected or not. I believe that recordings will eventually happen, but until there is real proactive demand by the community with a real commitment to view, I find that my own attention and time are better spent on topics such as spending, academics, and the well-being of our students.

Tech and Computer Questions in HSE Schools

Kids on Computer

While there were some technology questions asked of the candidates for the HSE School board at the HSEA candidate forum, I was surprised of a few that didn’t get asked. Questions such as:

  • What is being done to monitor screen time?
  • What is being done to secure the school networks better so as to keep kids from VPNing or getting out of the school network to sites that are not appropriate?
  • What is being done to prevent kids from playing non-educational games in the classrooms or at lunch?
  • What is being done to make sure the devices are secure at all times, including those when they are not in use?
  • What is being done to make sure teachers are fully versed in how to effectively use technology as a tool and not as a ‘babysitter’ or distraction?
  • How is the use of technology being balanced with that of other learning methods (such as paper periodicals and books at the lower levels?
  • Is there a review in place to make sure recommended devices are sufficient to cover the length of time they will be used? Specifically, if the school expects the life of a device to be four years, then are the devices being purchased this year going to still be usable in 4 years with the changes and deprecation of support that companies like Apple make?
  • Who is reviewing issues such as COPPA (Child Online Privacy and Protection Act) and software licensing to make sure that what is being used is not only appropriate for kids under 13, but also legal for kids under 13 to use? For example, Adobe licensing including Adobe Reader at one point did not allow for use by kids under 13.
  • Should we review the appropriateness of iPads in middle school and junior high where kids really need a keyboard?
  • ISTEP rules were going to require a wired keyboard on testing computers. Is this a possibility with whatever new testing replaces the ISTEP? If so, how will this be addressed by the school?

There were a few good technology comments that were brought up in the forum that included:

  • Technology and computers are just a tool. Like other tools, they are used to execute on the teaching.
  • HSE21 is not about computers and technology. It is a learning, teaching approach focused on project-based, inquisitive learning styles that is more open to allowing kids to engage with creativity and innovative thinking. The use of technology (and thus a 1:1 computer program) can make elements of HSE21 easier to execute.
  • There are great areas where technology can make a big impact on helping individual children. Several people echoed how they can be used to help children who have hearing issues.
  • More research needs to be done in regard to appropriate use and handling of devices in the lower grade levels, especially K-2.
  • Better communication needs to occur with incoming families in regard to technology expectations.
  • We should be using the technology to enable more communication
  • The technology is being used in cool, creative ways in the classrooms.
  • While it might seems trivial, the iPads are being used to cut down on paper and ink costs. A few cents saved for each piece of paper with ink adds up in the long run.
It is interesting to note that HSE has set up technology advisory committees that include teachers, administrators, and parents. Ironically, in the first two meetings of these committees, most of the questions and issues around technology have not been addressed. Given time, hopefully these are addressed.

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*photo credit: Lupuca Children at school via photopin (license)

 

UPDATE:

October 27, 2016 – The tech committee meeting on October 27th focused on open-ended questions. This included a lot of great, positive feedback on how technology is being used. It also included a number of comments and suggestions on making things better. Issue such as VPN access, screen time, computer monitoring, and appropriateness of device selection were all discussed. As to be expected, many topics are bigger than a one hour meeting can address; however, the topics were highlighted and brought to light. That’s a great step towards being able to build better solutions for the long term.

Hamilton Southeastern (HSE) School Board Candidate Forum “Live”

I’m not a fan of myself on video. Regardless, below is the recording of the school board candidate forum that occurred on October 4th at HSE High School in Fishers. A special thanks to the Hamilton Southeastern Education Association for hosting and recording this event.

In watching this, you’ll get to see the questions that were asked (or not asked) as well as hear the answers. None of the candidates proposed building walls around HSE, nor did any discussions occur about lost emails. In fact, everyone is focused on the issues related to our kids, our schools, our teachers, and our district.

For most questions, we were given one minute to answer. As a note, these are not questions that can be clearly answered in 60 seconds. Even with my quickly jotted notes, there were a multitude of things didn’t have time to say. Other candidates were able to make some of the comments that I hoped to highlight, which is great. In the end, we are building awareness on the topics impacting our schools, and hopefully the result will be for more people to feel open to engaging with the school board in the coming months and years.

Here are the recordings:

Part 1:

Part 2:

If you have any questions on anything I mentioned, feel free to contact me.

HSEA School Board Candidate Forum for the HSE Board

The Hamilton Southeastern Education Association (HSEA) held a forum tonight for the candidates running for school board. I was honored to be invited to this forum to get to talk to a number of teachers, community leaders, parents, students, and others.  The event was video taped and should be made available to the public in the near future. When it becomes available, I’ll post a link.

The forum was an interesting process, that was different from anything I’ve done in quite a while. In this event, each candidate was asked the same question and given 60 seconds to answer. The questions that were asked, came from the audience, so there was an interesting set of topics. There were several issues that weren’t brought up that I expected to hear, and there were a few questions asked that were new to me.

Providing answer to these serious questions in 60 seconds is tough. With such a little amount of time, the attempt was to focus on the core elements and hope that people understand the context for the answer. I found that after most of my responses, I had a number of additional things I would have liked to have included. Because the forum didn’t allow time, I’ll work to comment on some of those topics here on my blog over the next few weeks and months. There were good questions that deserved deeper responses.

In the meantime, below is a summary of information I’ve put into a handout that you can download from here. This is also sparse in that I tried to get information about myself along with some of the core issues that have been raised for the board. This information was created to fit on a single, two-sided piece of paper that I’ll be handing out. If you live within the HSE district, please feel free to download the document and share it with your neighbors.


Bradley Jones –  for Hamilton Southeastern School Board

I’d like your vote on November 8th for a position on the Hamilton Southeastern School Board.

Why You Should Care

Whether you have children in the public schools or not, the HSE School Board is making decisions that impact you and impact your child’s future. Even if you don’t have kids in the schools, the passing of bonds and referendums impact your taxes, and the quality of our schools impacts the success of our city to draw new businesses and families into Fishers. There are a lot of issues and topics that the HSE School board is or needs to address. I’ve listed just a few on the back.

My HSE School Board Commitment

Friends, families, teachers, and several others suggested that I run for the HSE School Board based on my interest and passion for what is happening in our schools and with our kids. When I’m elected, I commit to:

  • Putting our kids first
  • Demanding fiscal responsibility in all decisions
  • Represent you and our community
  • Keeping an open ear and an open mind to ideas that will benefit our kids and their future
  • Listening, researching, and learning so I can to make the best decisions for the benefit of the students
  • Giving my full attention to tackling the issues that have been raised (See the back side of this document for a list)
  • Putting our kids first (This was worth repeating)

A Few Tidbits on Me

The following provide a little information about me:

  • I am a dad of two attending HSE Schools.
  • I am a regular volunteer at the schools, as is my wife.
  • I prefer to solve issues rather than just talk.
  • I am proactive. I also am not afraid to go to the source to get answers firsthand.
  • I grasp the details needed to get things done and don’t just buy into the hype.
  • Prior to deciding to run for the board, I regularly attended HSE School Board meetings so I could be informed.
    • Edit: I’m the only candidate other than the incumbents that was regularly attending the school board meetings prior to putting my name on the ballot. Over the past two years, I was often the only parent in the audience for the main portion of the board meetings. I didn’t wait until an election to get involved.
  • I’ve been a room parent for the past six years. I’ve been told I execute a good class party, and teachers have complimented the learning aspects of some of the games played.
  • I’m actively involved in our community in driving technology education through user groups and meetups. I co-founded and ran the Indianapolis Developers Association for over a decade growing membership to over 3,500 at its peak.
  • I’ve been recognized as a technology influencer by companies like Microsoft.
  • I’ve written technical books that teach people of all ages how to program computers. My internationally bestselling books take technical topics and make them easy to understand.
  • I am a board member for the Danville, Illinois Rescue Mission, which service homeless men. The mission recently purchased a new building, and will be serving short-term homeless women and children as well. (I graduated from Danville High School.)
  • I interact daily with a diverse group of people from around the world through my job.
  • I have experience with personnel issues, contracts, project planning, technology, and more.

How School Board Voting Works

School Board positions are non-partisan positions that will appear on the November 8th ballot. It’s not about political parties; it’s about the students. There are three of seven school board positions up for election this year. You’ll be able to vote for one candidate in each of the three townships within HSE. I’d like to ask that you vote for me to represent Delaware Township and then vote for one other person in each of Fall Creek and Wayne Townships. While we are aligned with a township, our decisions impact every student and family in our entire district.

=====================================

Important Topics for the Hamilton Southeastern School Board to Address

While the HSE School Board does a lot of smaller tasks such as approving contracts for changing LED bulbs in our schools and recognizing community and school achievements, they also address a number of critical topics. The following are just a few of the topics the school board will be addressing or needs to address in the near future:

Our Kids: Kids First

Ultimately, it is all about the kids. Overall, we have great schools, wonderful teachers, and fantastic kids. Even so, we can continue to improve. Regardless of the area of focus or the topic, the core to any decision is the students. The following are a few kid-centric initiatives I expect the board will be talking about (or that I will be raising).

  • Making sure the middle 60% aren’t overlooked; making sure every student has the chance to succeed
  • Supporting the related arts (music, art, library, P.E.) to give our kids valuable experiences
  • Incorporating mental health programs for our children’s social, emotional, and overall mental well-being
  • Teaching the right world languages for our kids
  • Maintaining smaller class sizes*
  • Making sure the kids in our district have get a fair chance at opportunities to learn or participate in activities**

Clarifications: *The 2% growth projected for the City of Fishers over each of the next 10 years would equate to 300 to 400 kids added each year, thus needing 10 to 15 more classrooms. **Allowing out of district kids to go to HSE schools could take sport and academic positions away from in-district kids.

Technology

One of the hottest and most controversial topics the past five years has been technology. This topic will continue to be critical as the policies on the following items need to be evaluated:

  • Managing screen time
  • Security, privacy, digital footprints, and related topics
  • Preventing cyber bullying
  • Getting technology installed and working
  • Use of proprietary tech vs. standard (“Why iPads?”)
  • Evaluate keyboarded devices in lower grades
  • Licensing, app, and hardware costs
  • Confirming COPPA compliance

Fiscal Responsibility

With an increased referendum (now at .23/$100), an increase of annual state funding per our student allocation increasing, and the approval of capital bonds, HSE Schools has tens of millions of additional dollars. Our schools need to be fiscally responsible as well as transparent without obfuscating. Fiscal issues include:

  • Address the need for more school buildings
  • Evaluate updates to existing buildings – Schools like Durban require updates
  • Need for a larger administrative building
  • Reduce use of referendum dollars to pay ongoing recurring costs
  • Lower fees for things such as pay-to-play, student technology and other fees
  • Ensure competitive teacher compensation

Teachers and Teaching

Our teachers and teaching policies are the core to our success. We need to support the success of our teachers and programs.

  • Support of project-based, inquisitive learning programs (HSE 21)
  • Continued education of teachers, students, parents on technology as a tool
  • Avoid fads and focus on the kids
  • Get the best teachers and then keep them
  • Create an effective school calendar
  • Support opportunities for professional development of teachers
  • Promote more consistency across grade levels
  • Push for a stronger focus on developmentally appropriate curriculum

Final Message

We need to do everything that can be done to safely prepare our kids for the future, while remaining fiscally
accountable to our community. Help by voting for Bradley Jones for the HSE School Board on November 8th.


As already mentioned, the above are abbreviated lists made to fit on a handout. If you have questions on my positions on any of the above, feel free to ask. Ultimately, it is the group of seven board members that will determine how each is addressed.