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Access to Wi-Fi Stands as Biggest Obstacle for Student Progress, Workshop Leaders Say

Using technology to transform classrooms across school districts is not about moving the academic achievement needle. It’s about bringing equity and engaging students, according to a panel of superintendents.

Rolling out the technology will help level the playing field so there will be better outcomes and metrics in the long run, said David Schuler, of Arlington Heights, Ill., and AASA’s 2018 National Superintendent of the Year®.

“If a student with a low attendance rate can access homework if they’re home sick or home from a surgery, it’s a win,’’ Schuler said. “If the GPA is going up because there is more access and more opportunities, it’s a win.”

The panelists shared resources developed by AASA and the Consortium for School Networking. They also spoke of innovative efforts to bridge the digital divide, digital citizenship and staff training.

James Lane, superintendent of Chesterfield County, Va., Public Schools, said he went as far as boosting the broadband signal so it would reach outside the school. He also put Wi-Fi on school buses.

“The first thing we did was make a list of all the businesses with free Wi-Fi,” Lane said. “This helped with the jump to the digital transformation, and it was an awesome resource for families with no internet at home.”

Many socioeconomically disadvantaged families don’t have internet access at home, said Kamela Patton, superintendent of Collier County Schools in Naples, Fla. Her district – as big as the state of Delaware – gave air cards to many of the migrant families who had no access.

“We were able to reach all those kids and families and they were excited,” Patton said. “You have to think outside of the box.”

Lane’s school district distributed more than 40,000 Chromebooks. Superintendents and principals need to have a plan before rolling out such devices, Lane said. If not, he added, teachers and students will focus on the device and miss the important front end on how they should use it as a learning tool.

(Chris Echegaray, a freelance writer in Nashville, is a reporter for Conference Daily Online.)

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