Editor's Note: This interview was conducted nearly 20 years ago as part of a project I completed for the UCLA Educational Leadership program. The goal was to understand how educational leaders use computers in their daily lives and how they manage technology's many challenges in their workplace. I am amazed at how well the issues raised by the twelve K-12 leaders and higher education professionals I interviewed have stood the test of time. The hardware and software has changed, to be sure, but the challenge of using technology as a leadership tool still remains. Enjoy! *extra credit if you answer the questions at the end of each interview!
As the Director of the School Management Program you’ve been intimately involved with the LEARN reform program and you’ve worked closely with LAUSD over the past few years. What has the School Management Program been involved with lately?
Well as you are probably aware there are no phase six schools. The superintendent has made it clear that he doesn’t particularly support LEARN (The Los Angeles Educational Alliance to Restructure Now). However, in the summer institute that is coming up, we will have Phase Five schools in their second summer and there is support for Phase Three schools to come back. We have been given the contract to work with all of the SBM (School Based Management) schools. And we have the entire restructured Office of Curriculum and Instruction coming out to a summer intensive and we will be working closely with them. We anticipate having a very productive year, both with LEARN schools and non-LEARN schools. One of the things being considered is having us work with the 100 schools, the infamous 100 schools list.
I was a staff member at one of those schools. People have taken that really hard. I mean, what has the District done to support those schools in the last year, and how were those schools evaluated?
The protocol was one standardized test in one grade level, and that’s the list. The superintendent has actually said that in print though he has denied it verbally. How you rank schools on just one standardized test, ignoring everything else that is going on, what does that tell us? And obviously educators were upset. He’s taken a lot of heat for that, its almost a joke now internally in LA Unified. But, the good news is, if we get 100 schools to work with and move forward on their own journey, that’s a plus. That means those schools are going to get some financial support for the first time.
Hopefully what will come out of it are extra resources and a leadership focus on what are essentially inner city schools.
And 34 of those schools are LEARN schools so they’ve had some training and we can point to concrete evidence of how far they’ve come. But yes, the standardized test score at one grade level they scored low, so they get on the list. So that is the school management program at this point. We are still expanding it into other districts. We are working more and more with families of schools, geographic families, the LAAMP families. So we are very pleased overall and are continuing.
Tell me about the retreat and the anticipated outcomes.
The Summer Institute is composed if individuals from SBM schools and the Office of Instruction. There are different objectives for each one. Phase Five is finishing first year training with us and now they are returning to talk about what they have done over the first year to talk about so where did you start, what have you implemented, where are you now, and where do you want to be and go next.
The SBM schools is a core program and this is the kick off. In other words, you’ve been a site based management school for many years and you’ve dealt a lot with administrative issues. What have you done in the area of curriculum and instruction for your students? What does your data tell you and where do you want to go from here? The SBM schools have not had support for a number of years.
In the case of the Office of Curriculum and Instruction, it has been totally restructured, and it has almost been designed for failure, as is typical of any large district, with one exception. Carmen Schroeder and her deputy Superintendents are all absolutely dedicated to working differently. And so we are going to work with the whole division to answer questions - what do you hope to accomplish, how do you focus on the Superintendent’s goals, how do you restructure. We have 2 days with 20 of them and three days with 175 of them. We become a critical friend to them and help them get focused. I’m hopeful for the real interest on not doing business as usual.
One of the focuses of the School Management Program has been on preparing principals and lead teachers to use technology. In the past laptop computers have been provided and participants have received basic and advanced training. Why the emphasis on technology and where do you see that headed?
Our attendance at the workshops has generally been good. Saturday sessions are fairly well attended. People who are interested have learned a great deal about the mechanics of using a computer. They can use Excel, Word, Powerpoint, etc. And some have learned how to use more advanced software programs. Many schools have established technology networks and contacts with one another. We are taking it to a different level in the summer institute. We will be addressing questions like: How do you integrate technology meaningfully into the curriculum? And how can technology support your school’s goals?
Our philosophy is its one thing to learn how to use a computer and that’s very valuable as a tool to help do your job better. We are even more concerned though, and as we observe schools that are hooking up to the Internet by the thousands and brag about the number of computers they have, but its very clear they do it without a strategic plan, they haven’t started their backwards planning. They haven’t asked themselves what do we want to have happen with technology and then buy the technology and software to support that. They start with the technology and then sit and scratch their heads, “what do we want?” Or worse still, they don’t even ask themselves that question ever.
So we are going to give them two things; more technology training to learn the mechanics, you know, the the nuts and bolts. But we are also going to offer what we call the philosophical sessions, to get them to ask “so what do you want for your school?” What do you want kids to be able to do and know about technology? What do you want your teachers to know and do with technology? What are your educational and instructional outcomes for the technology? When you go on the Internet what do you want besides access to a whole lot of information?
Having educators who are comfortable getting their hands on computers and doing the nuts and bolts training actually helps us with the philosophy part in a constructivist way because when you are actually using a computer, and you are making mistakes and you are fumbling along and seeing the wonderful things you can do, it helps you think differently about what you want for the kids and what you want for your schools. I admire the Vice President who wants everybody hooked up to the Internet, but for what end? What do you do with all of that information once you have it? There is so much out there, you can’t waste student learning time just surfing the web, you have got to have a specific purpose for it.
SMP is pushing the edge when it comes to technology training. UTLA, pictures of laptops, a lot of ground breaking work. What are some of the challenges with technology training? What are the issues that you have experienced?
A couple things come to mind. The first is the absolute and total lack of support from the District itself. Whether its the ITD (Instructional Technology Unit), which needs an awful lot of help, or the support from the smaller units, there is very little technical support district-wide. The other thing is I have found that the greatest obstacle to teacher comfort is in fact their use of technology. They never get a chance to sit and play and make mistakes and fumble around with it and learn constructively. They sometimes sit in classes and they get manuals and they go back and try and apply it but its not the same as doing it.
I’m a firm believer, it would be one of the greatest things the state could do, would be to give every teacher their own computer. It would be a very inexpensive, long-term investment which would have rewards beyond our imagination. So that is a great problem we find. Without a computer at home or in their classroom in order to practice, their learning curve falls off rapidly. That’s a challenge. So we are thinking about how to solve that problem in a meaningful way. If they’d put half of the money they’ve spent on wiring the schools into purchasing every teacher a computer the bang for the buck would have been much greater. Politically that would have been very tough, maybe impossible, “You are buying teachers a computer?” But the idea is that the equipment is meaningless unless the teachers have a full understanding.
How does this organization use technology? I know you have the web site, which is a great way to reach so many teachers and administrators spread out over all of Los Angeles.
The web site is getting more sophisticated all of the time. Schools can order materials directly from our web page now. Our set up is that we have a technology committee made up of faculty and staff. We have a tech person on staff. The staff is very computer literate and that’s one of the reasons why we are on the cutting edge with that. We have databases, and extensive servers, etc.
When I first came on board, we were sending out biweekly sets of articles to schools. We were sending out seven, eight or nine outstanding articles to hundreds of different schools. I thought “this is wonderful, but we are wasting paper and wasting postage.” So we notified the schools that we are now sending it out via e-mail. Articles are posted on the web site now. We find that many people are viewing the articles online.
Teachers want to use technology. But you have to model the kind of instruction you want taking place in classrooms. Getting up in front and doing a talking head lecture is not what we want in classrooms. Where do teachers learn how to teach? They generally learn it from their own educational experience and their university experience. They think it is O.K. to go out and lecture because that’s safe. But our philosophy is that we learn together, teachers and learners, so that if we make mistakes, we make them together. In hands-on, constructivist education, we all learn and advance together. That’s one of the real, underlying principles of what we do here at the School Management Program.
What lessons have you learned about organizational change and where do you see the program headed over the next five to ten years?
A study be Claremont that we conducted is proving what we thought was true. That the leadership pair that comes in is getting good solid stuff, they are using it, the are internalizing it, but its the transition back to the school site. The schools that are bringing out a greater number of people are more successful than others. The transition back to the school site is the challenge.
I see the future of the School Managmenet Program being far different than where we are now. We are a learning organization and we are constantly changing and improving each year. I’m sure the models we use will be different. I’m sure we will be more sophisticated in technology. We probably will have new sets of people. But the concept will go on and continue to be doing school site based work and families of schools. We think it is where the greatest change takes place.
Reform is partly about articulating goals and instruction between schools. Also, personal transformation is important too. But we’ve gone beyond that. The reculturation of a school is absolutely crucial to school reform. Only when the school culture changes, the school changes long-term. Otherwise, when the charismatic leaders leave, it goes back to the old ways. The Open Charter school is a good example of that.
How do you see technology evolving in the future? And what are the biggest issues related to K-12 technology use?
Equitable access is very important. We don’t have that now. But WebTV is a major first step to lowering access costs. The kids from higher socio economic status have an advantage, so we have to make sure that all kids have that access. I would like to see kids be able to write and get instant feedback, not just on the mechanics, but on the content as well. I think the WiggleWorks program is a great example of how kids can read to a computer and get feedback. New and innovative instructional software. And who knows what’s next beyond the computer.
- How is technology being used to support district-wide reform efforts?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of learning to use technology as part of a pre-service program as opposed to in-service programs? Is there a need for both types?
- Both Jim Davis and Dr. Dan Chernow illustrated the value of putting computer equipment into the hands of teachers, even going so far as to support the home use of district equipment for teachers. Do you think giving each teacher a laptop computer would speed up the development process? How could you implement a program like that?
- The School Management Program now disseminates its weekly articles electronically. What are the technical requirements (hardware,software) required to do that?
- What is technology’s role in a “learning organization?”