Kristine Bewley – Red Clay Consolidated School District
It’s not a revelation that technology is a powerful tool that engages students, but Kristine Bewley has been awed by just how true it is.
Now equipped with Chromebooks, students in grades 3 through 12 at Red Clay Consolidated School District are “super involved” in their curriculum; they take initiative, go out and do their own research, collaborate with teachers and fellow students, and very often teach the teachers a thing or two about technology.
“It’s tech across the board; we’re giving kids anywhere, anytime learning that in the past we weren’t able to provide,” says Bewley, Red Clay’s manager of information systems. “Now they can do the same things that only kids who had access to a computer at home were able to do.”
Bridging the socioeconomic divide
The largest school system in Delaware, Red Clay is a microcosm of the country; its students represent both the haves and the have nots, from well-off areas that have a 4 percent free or reduced lunch rate to those with a 90 percent free or reduced rate, Bewley explains.
All of which underscores the importance of using technology as an equalizer for about 16,000 students spread across 26 schools, she says.
And the diverse community has overwhelmingly agreed. In 2015, taxpayers approved a referendum that raised $26 million for the district; in addition to upgrading curriculum, that funding has helped to support new and forward-thinking technology efforts, including the 1:1 Chromebook project.
“The landscape of education and teaching is changing,” Bewley says. “Parents saw the need for their children to be 21st century learners.”
After a phased roll-out launched in 2015, Red Clay now has some 15,000 Chromebooks in student hands. The intent is to have them replaced every three years—starting with a new device in 3rd grade, then upgrades in 6th and 9th grades, Bewley explains. The district has been able to expand the initiative to some if its younger students, now providing handed-down Chromebooks to second-graders.
Chromebooks were chosen due to their affordability, durability, functionality and capabilities, Bewley says, noting that they were “100 percent the best choice for us.”
Just as importantly, administrators had to find the right fit when it came to a learning management system. “We had devices; we needed to figure out what to do on them,” she says. “Otherwise they’re just glorified paperweights.”
The district finally settled on Schoology and the K12 Google Suite. Schoology, in particular, helps teachers to meet students where they are, Bewley notes; it has capabilities to give and track assignments, provide immediate feedback and personalize instruction to different learning styles and needs. While Bewley’s team ensures that the devices and applications are up and running, the district’s instructional technology team works with teachers to help integrate devices and online resources into classrooms and lessons.
Meanwhile, Red Clay is rolling out a new secondary math curriculum that is paperless; students have access to their textbooks and materials online. E-rate funding—a federal program that subsidizes telecommunications and internet access—is being used to expand school infrastructure, including wireless upgrades to common areas and outdoor classroom spaces. SMART Board and classroom amplification systems are also being updated and replaced.
For these efforts, Bewley relies on her team of project coordinators; technicians; and network, deployment, applications, wireless and help desk support specialists—while students aid in the ongoing transition, as well. For example: A high school “SWAT” team handles simpler day-to-day tech issues with Chromebooks, Bewley explains.
Red Clay also gets help with desktop, system and network support staff through Wilmington IT staffing company Progressive Software Computing Inc. (PSCI).
Focusing on local talent and specific needs, “we make sure that our people have good communication skills and can give assurance that the problem will be solved, and in timely manner,” explains business director Kenneth Hoffman, “and that they ask questions that aren’t technically overwhelming.”
He adds that, “we truly enjoy working with Red Clay. They communicate very well with us. Quick response and timing are very important in our business.”
All told, the goal is to get teachers as comfortable and as fluent with instructional technology as possible, Bewley notes, so that they can maximize the blended learning environment—when appropriate, that is.
Technology is “a tool and an enhancement,” she says, stressing that traditional assignments and teaching methods with “screens down” is still crucial and useful. “Nothing can take the place of direct teacher instruction.”
A graduate of Pennsylvania State University, Bewley joined Red Clay in 2004 as a data coordinator before moving to her current position in 2012. She also serves as a liaison for the state of Delaware’s Department of Technology and Information.
Growing up with a father who was a teacher, she was comfortable in an educational environment, she says, but never thought to herself, “I want to be a teacher.” She was always more technically-minded, and eventually an opportunity came up to help roll out and manage a student information system in Delaware’s Christina School District (prior to her joining Red Clay).
“It’s almost like the position came up just for me,” she recalls.
And although she’s not in the classroom every day, she regularly interacts with students and district staff, and sees her team’s efforts take shape through ongoing student projects and presentations.
“Knowing that we had our little part in helping with that is so rewarding,” she says. “It’s a really warm environment to be in.”
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