Navigating digital transformation
The Cajon Valley Union School District, which is located just east of San Diego, consists of 28 schools and 16,000-plus students. One-third of the district’s students are Hispanic, and two-thirds of its majority white population are Middle Eastern and refugees.
In building curriculums that strategically merge traditional teaching methods with innovative technological principles, Cajon Valley has been a leader others long to emulate. Since 2013, Cajon Valley has given its students every opportunity to succeed in today’s technology-driven landscape. Along with teachers receiving extensive training sessions on creating high tech, blended classrooms, every student receives a laptop and 24/7 WiFi.
Cajon Valley’s innovative and groundbreaking platform is the brainchild of Dave Miyashiro, the district’s Education Leader and Superintendent. His programs, which have garnered national acclaim, continue to be highly sought after, including the franchised curriculum “World of Work.” The program focuses on helping children starting as early as kindergarten with ways to translate their passion into jobs. In addition, he leads the TEDxKids@ElCajon conference, which showcases children’s talents on a globally broadcast platform.
“The first part of implementing a digital transformation is the stakeholder engagement, which involves everyone—students, parents, administrators and the community,” says Miyashiro, who has successfully implemented technology programs in three different schools as far back as 2005. “If there is a key to being successful, it is allowing people to be the heroes. People are going to have lots of questions, so you need to walk them through the process and let them grow with it—not just throw a bunch of solutions at them. You want them to walk away saying, ‘We did this.’”
The blueprint to Cajon Valley’s success starts with what Miyashiro calls the most vital part of the program—the chief technology officer. Finding yourself a quarterback, someone who is capable of navigating the program through the many hurdles along the way, is critical. Miyashiro refers to the process as “teaching through a lens,” in which everyone is working together toward the same goal.
“What I learned from prior implementations is that having everybody learn on their own is a recipe for disaster,” Miyashiro says. “You have to make the commitment to learn together as a collaborative group. Meet regularly. Continually discuss the implementation. There should always be someone to help when help is needed. Teachers and administrators should never feel like they are on their own.”
It is there—in the crossroads of what is new and what you don’t know—that the real work begins. Miyashiro says that in 2013, during one of his implementations, there were teachers who were adamant about not getting replaced by computers. “They dug their heels in the sand. There are always going to be outliers. After a while, when everyone was working together, they saw what technology could do. We had parents asking why we weren’t moving forward like everyone was. The outliers quickly came back and said, ‘We’re in.’”
All about the plan
In his 20-plus year career, David Damico has been involved in four digital transformation initiatives. In his last one, before he retired, Damico was the Executive Director of Technology Services for the Beverly Hills Unified School District. Before he arrived, while the district was running a 1:1 learning platform, it experienced a rather large failure in preparing the community for the initiative. To make it more interesting, the middle school principal cancelled the take-home program for devices, followed by a teacher revolt over the LMS the district chose (the contract eventually was terminated).
If Damico is sure about anything, it is that challenges are part of the process, which means you have to work even harder in the beginning to build every bridge. With every implementation, he summarizes them as “change management” related, followed by politics, communication failures, budget constraints and infrastructure needs. And, of course, there is the old standby—not being able to embrace technology-based schooling.
Today, more than ever, Damico says it is alright to use the phrase, “The pandemic changed everything.” How could it have not? “The pandemic has clearly changed the way teachers and students use technology in the classroom. Additionally, classrooms have become more 21st century with devices, interactive boards, document cameras, integrated AV systems, etc. I think the ‘how teachers use’ question is based on grade level, content area, teacher experience and training, and district support for technology troubleshooting and development of tech integrated instructional practices.”
During the pandemic, students learned to be in synchronous meetings, submit work online, use the internet for support and learning, use educational tools like SeeSaw in elementary grades and Google Classroom in upper elementary through high school. Having said that, Damico says the pandemic made it clear that technology without teacher proximity does not lead to learning outcomes districts strive for. Learning loss was significant even in places like Beverly Hills, where teachers were exhausted by the daily demand of being meaningfully online with students.
“The key is to plan, plan, plan; set realistic goals and develop realistic budgets that include training, support, infrastructure and refresh,” Damico says. “Most administrators don’t factor in the IT requirements associated with supporting robust technology in classroom settings. In many cases, school districts cannot afford 1-1 without special monies to keep the programs going. General fund money is not adequate to support technology-based instruction. This means districts have to choose a technology-based instruction model they can afford and support. More is not necessarily better, and state of the art is always expensive to care for and feed.”
Before he retired from the Beverly Hills Unified School District, Damico provided the district with a five-year plan. “We have reached a level of maturity in most school districts I have been associated with to see technology being used in ubiquitous ways by teachers and students.”
As K-12 districts move forward, it will take planning, including requiring districts to set money aside (like they do for facilities) to ensure there are funds for maintaining and replacing infrastructure (wireless networking equipment, servers, switches, fiber, front-of-classroom technology, AV and large meeting spaces), devices (student and adult), and support at home for students who still do not have adequate internet when they are not at school.
Navigating the landscape will always take a village.
5 ways to bolster your digital navigation
1. Take a trip — Field trips to where the process is working in EdTech are highly recommended. Seeing is believing.
2. Build it and they will come — Everything you implement must not only be efficient and effective, but safe and secure. Making sure your technology is operational and secure is paramount.
3. One for all and all for one — Building collaborative teams that are accountable to each other is one of the best ways to ensure your transformation is working. The peer-to-peer approach is goal worthy.
4. Keeping up with the times — What’s new? What’s coming? In the world of AI and machine learning, changes happen frequently, so staying on top of the wave is critical.
5. Plan, plan, plan. — Set realistic goals. Develop realistic budgets that include training, support, infrastructure and refresh. Most administrators do not factor in the IT requirements associated with supporting robust technology in classroom settings.