Keith Mispagel has been Superintendent of USD 207 School District since 2010. Past leadership roles at USD 207 include Deputy Superintendent and Principal of Eisenhower Elementary School. He began his career as a teacher in the 1st and 5th grades. On May 9th he sat down for a discussion about CYBER-TEAMS and the role of technology in the district.
Could you describe your approach to technology in the district?
Lots of school districts out there are technology rich. And we are fortunate to have technology resources, too. But having technology is not the same as using technology well. It’s my guiding philosophy that learners and teachers do best when there is a systematic plan for how and why technology is incorporated.
We are a school district with the emphasis on the word “school.” We are a school district that uses technology, not a “technology district.” So we haven’t gone to 1:1 with devices immediately–I think that eventually we will get there, but we also want to have a proposal process
People come to me and say, “I need this or that technology.” They invite me to their PLC (Professional Learning Community) meetings and say, “this is what we want to do.” I love that, and my response is that I’d love to support that, if they can answer the who, what, when where, why and how. This has challenged them to think about what they want to do in a strategic way. It’s more than a quick verbal commitment.
How do you feel that request process affects the use of technology?
The result of going through this process is that the teachers are using technology more often, and more thoughtfully, I think. Everyone is testing and evaluating what works well what doesn’t. And in the end it leads to purposeful use of learning technology. I guess you could say I’m cautiously progressive.
Do you see USD 207 going to a 1:1 device to student ratio in the future?
Yes I do see that happening at some point. Exactly what it could look like, we don’t know yet. It could be iPads, it could be Chromebooks, it could be something other device, and it could be a hybrid approach with various devices. The curriculum should drive the technology, not the other way around. One thing that is interesting is that we want to make data-based decisions. We are currently doing an iPad versus Chromebook comparison; split across a grade level. The results from this test that will be very interesting.
Because the technology opens up various avenues, the technology is one of the last decisions we want to make, not the first. First, we want to define the educational challenges and goals. What skills do students need and how can we help them develop those skills. It’s the same way with TEAMS thinking; you choose your tools last, based on the problem and the intent.
The other issue to keep in mind is the high relocation and turnover rate at USD 207. Fifty percent of our kids move in and out every year. So any technology we choose has to flexible to implement and support, with a quick learning curve for students.
What excites you about technology in education?
I think it allows us to work smarter. We can be more effective as educators, and there are fewer limits. For example, with something as basic as books and content, we now have almost unlimited access to books and content. And it makes it easier to involve the teacher and family in the student’s learning.
You were a teacher yourself–what technology would you be most excited about if you were back in the classroom tomorrow?
Yes I taught first and fifth grade. There are so many things I’d like to try now. If I were back in the classroom I’d love to use the SmartBoard and I also think that what people are doing with the mini laptops is really exciting. That would be fun to try!
Our teachers here in the district are amazing. They are great without technology, so when we put technology in their hands, along with a plan, their results are only going to be better. We do a lot of professional development here.
Yes, could you talk about the professional development program?
CYBER-TEAMS is something that everyone should look at in terms of professional development, I think. We do a lot of professional development, and it’s regular.. Each teacher has a touchpoint several times a quarter. And when I say professional development, it’s an eighty-twenty split, with 20% on how to turn on a device and figure out the apps. 80% is about how this can benefit the learner, and how can we change our teaching to be more learner-centered. The bulk of the time is spent developing 21st century skill strategies and challenge-based learning strategies.
And not only is this beneficial for our students and school community, there’s value to others, too. Lots of researchers have asked to study what’s going on here. A number of Ph.D. candidates from local programs like St. Mary’s University, Baker University, UMKC, and KU are doing their dissertations on topics related to CYBER-TEAMS. And unfortunately, we’ve actually had to turn away a few more that requested to work with us, simply because we didn’t have the resources handy to coordinate. We are very fortunate to have had some success and have benefitted by these relationships with researchers in the educational community.
Our teachers here work very hard and I’m very proud of them. We’re seeing them inspire kids every day. In some ways, this tech innovation is a lot of work up front, but we’ve seen that in the long run, it makes the teachers’ jobs easier and the students’ learning richer.
Thanks very much.