Atkins, Moran to visit White House for tech-focused education summit

Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools, and Rosa Atkins, superintendent of Charlottesville City Schools, won’t be in their offices or out visiting students Wednesday.

Instead, the area’s top educators will be among 100 education leaders from around the nation attending the first White House National Connected Superintendents Summit — an event aimed at displaying best practices for school divisions wishing to transition to digital learning.

“School divisions are helping teachers harness the power of technology to create personal learning environments for all students,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Atkins and Moran agreed.

“Secretary Duncan makes the point that every child should be able to have the chance to learn 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Atkins and Moran said in a joint news release. “If we are to achieve that laudable goal and prepare our students for lifelong success, we need to provide all students, no exceptions, with access to broadband and contemporary technologies.”

And both Charlottesville and Albemarle are trying to do so.

Charlottesville’s one-to-one technology initiative — in which students receive their own computers — begins in sixth grade.

“Before that, there are carts that teachers can check out to create a 1:1 atmosphere in younger grades for a specific project or activity,” Charlottesville schools spokeswoman Beth Cheuk said.

Albemarle is rolling out its one-to-one initiative at various schools and grades, and the division will soon field test wireless technology it hopes will provide all of its students with home broadband access.

Phil Giaramita, spokesman for Albemarle’s schools, said the division’s approach is to use technology as a means to access educational materials.

“There’s a great deal of emphasis on training and on the device as a learning tool,” Giaramita said. “The goal is not to issue computers to every student but to expand learning opportunities, and one of the ways in which we are doing that is through computers and working to expand broadband access.”

Both divisions are also ramping up their online course offerings.

Charlottesville currently offers 26 online courses, which are serving 440 classroom roster spots.

“Some students take two to three virtual classes, and they are counted two to three times, accordingly,” Cheuk said.

Albemarle’s three online courses — economics and personal finance, health I and health II — serve 150 students.

Giaramita said Albemarle’s courses were developed in-house, which he said the division considers more “valuable and effective” than purchasing courses prepared by outside vendors.

Richard Culatta, director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, said education’s most pressing need is learning environments that resemble the connected working world.

“Technology has the potential to transform education, allowing students to learn more, to do so at their own pace, and to acquire the knowledge and skills employers demand,” Culatta said. “Yet fewer than 30 percent of classrooms in America have broadband access to support today’s educational technology needs.”

All of Charlottesville and Albemarle’s schools have broadband access, and both divisions — in partnership with the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Curry School of Education — collaborate on the Commonwealth Engineering Design Academies.

Using advanced manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing and computer-aided design, the laboratory school teaches engineering concepts in its science curriculum. The program spans Buford Middle School and Charlottesville High School in the city and Albemarle High School and Jack Jouett Middle School in Albemarle.

A unique aspect of the program is the fact that each school’s labs in the academy are linked via video to UVa’s partner lab, which allows professors to provide feedback to area teachers.

“Collaboration, being able to work remotely in teams, is a highly valued capability in today’s global economy,” Atkins and Moran said in the joint statement. “Connectivity develops this skill among students who are engaged in project-based learning teams.”

While both superintendents are leading the charge in classroom technology, they say they also place heavy emphasis on people.

“Being future ready requires more than just the equity and access to contemporary technology that makes learning portable for students, it also requires a commitment to those resources that ensure excellent teachers in every classroom,” the local superintendents said.