Sunday, January 21, 2018
Education

Pasco classrooms opening up to new technology coaches

TRINITY — Jen Hoffman started her Thursday morning early, helping Seven Springs Middle School teachers set up online sites to better communicate with students and parents.

She offered instructions for using the Canvas program, then provided attention to the less tech-savvy of the group.

As the teachers left, Hoffman, the information communication technology coach, also headed to a classroom, where she assisted history teacher Terry Bailey as his first period students developed websites for a national competition.

"It definitely helps," said Bailey, an admitted novice on classroom technology. "I'm really rough into it. Having her and the media staff helps me greatly."

A year ago, Pasco County schools adopted a new model for delivering media and tech support, replacing one that often proved reactive to immediate needs.

Media specialists helped students with book selection, software use and research methods, and technology specialists focused on computerized testing and, quite frequently, hardware troubleshooting.

Partly for budget savings, and partly for academics, the School Board did away with the two specialist jobs. Instead, it created a single position aimed at improving schools' instructional use of digital material and machines.

Aides would run the media centers. A centralized "geek squad" would fix computers.

Criticism erupted, from media specialists and their allies. Even the people who won the new jobs fretted they didn't understand the scope of the work, or how they would handle the responsibilities alone.

Six months into the experiment, the reviews are guardedly positive.

"You've got to think about developmentally where we are. For year one, we have surpassed our expectations," said assistant superintendent Amelia Larson, the force behind the change. "But it's not perfect, because people are building their skills."

Hoffman, who split her time between two schools last year, praised the transformation.

She doesn't get stuck in the school media center uploading apps or checking out books.

"You've pushed all the instructional people back into teaching, so we can help the teachers," Hoffman said.

It's a role many of her colleagues appreciate.

"The technology base that she brings, the support they offer us for technology integration, didn't exist last year," said eighth-grade math teacher Theresa Carter. "It was more about when we had computer issues. Now it's about how we can use the technology."

With the coaches' guidance — Seven Springs has two because of its size — Carter said she expanded her use of online resources for students. She makes assignments, practice tests and video tutorials, all available for the kids to use at home.

"They're helping us to evolve to where our teaching is going," she said.

It is a work in progress, though, acknowledged Vic Mallett, the school's other ICT coach.

Mallett, a Pasco educator for more than 20 years, hadn't spent much time in the classroom over the past 12 years.

Getting back into the instructional frame of mind takes time, he said. Equally time consuming is figuring out who does what. Computerized testing also looms large, along with such things as teaching digital citizenship, among other responsibilities.

"We're learning as we go along," he said. "Thank heavens we have two of us (coaches) here."

Media technology assistant Donna Cravens said she steps in where she can, giving "the Reader's Digest version" to individual students visiting the library.

"I'm not instructional, so I pretty much just oversee the day to day running of the media," Cravens said, noting that the faculty and staff are working through issues. Still, she added, "things are going smoother than I had anticipated."

Students, meanwhile, found the changes transparent. Their biggest complaint: They missed their former media specialist.

They did appreciate, however, the school's increased focus on technology. That's a full-time effort that couldn't be made when the specialists' job often kept them coping with crises.

Under the new setup, Hoffman spends her days advising teachers, mentoring students, and focusing on the push toward the digital school. She and Mallett also have studied how to remodel the media center and computer labs.

They recently spent an hour with principal Chris Dunning and two assistant principals, discussing computer placement, furniture selection and other details related to that project.

Dunning said he was pleased that, slowly but surely, teachers have welcomed the influx of technology — and the coaches — into their classrooms.

"It's not everybody buying in yet, but those pockets are really spreading," he said.

That reception has sparked Hoffman's enthusiasm.

"This is fantastic for us," the one-time technology specialist said. "We get to be back to being teachers."

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