Rural Ind. School Leader Helps Wire a Community
- Expertise: Digital Access
- Position: Superintendent
- District: Garrett-Keyser-Butler Community School District, Garrett, Ind.
Dennis Stockdale arrived as the superintendent in Garrett, Ind., six years ago, when the Garrett-Keyser-Butler school district seemed as remotely connected to 21st-century learning as its rural landscape might suggest.
Today, amid the farms and small-town stores, all three schools in this 1,800-student district have been equipped with Wi-Fi, elementary school students use their own iPads in class, older students take their MacBook laptops home every day, and a state-of-the art, totally wired high school opened this school year.
Stockdale says he also made sure that all students in his system, 21 miles north of Fort Wayne, 73 percent of whom qualify for subsidized lunches, have equitable access to the Internet beyond school hours.
“The whole key is individualizing instruction and education for the student,” Stockdale says. “We’ve got to reinvent school and make it a place where the kids want to come.”
That change didn’t come overnight—the school had few computers and outdated Internet connections when Stockdale arrived—and it took some convincing, particularly when it came to the school board, says Anthony L. Griffin, the board’s vice president. And though Stockdale was passionate, not everyone on the board was ready for the high-tech ideas he proposed. “Even myself, I had some questions,” Griffin says.
But Stockdale pushed board members to attend conferences highlighting the possibilities of a 1-to-1 device system. He urged them to travel to other districts to see initiatives already in place, made his own presentations using technology, and ultimately made sure members had their own iPads for board business.
“Some of the board members that were not much for it, when they saw what it could do and where it could go, that helped sway them,” Griffin says.
And Stockdale, 48, found the money to get the job done. To begin with, he redirected money that parents already were paying in state fees for printed textbooks into buying devices and using electronic curricula.
“We’re not dependent on textbooks at all,” he says. “We’re spending money differently than we ever spent it before.”
Stockdale emphasized professional development as the devices were rolled out. Now, teachers are curating curricula and creating their own electronic-resource libraries to promote individualized learning. Rather than group by grade level for early-grades mathematics, students are grouped by learning level and outcomes, which can change daily or weekly, Stockdale says.
“Technology is not a replacement for teachers,” he says. “It’s a tool and a resource for efficiency in educational delivery. Teachers can do more because they have that tool.”
In addition to using textbook fees, the district received a $300,000 classroom-innovation grant from the Indiana Department of Education to help offset costs. “Our kids deserve these resources as much as any area, and it’s our responsibility to provide those,” Stockdale says.
Once the 1-to-1 program was in place, however, there were worries that students who had Internet access at home would have an unfair advantage over those who didn’t. The district used some of the grant money to buy 100 mobile Wi-Fi hot spots that students can take home to provide access.
In addition, the district wired the community center in Garrett with Wi-Fi, so students have access there. The local library is also wired, and in the new high school, part of which opened this school year, administrators will denote a wireless area that will be open until 10 p.m. on school days for students to work.
But getting to this point wasn’t all smooth sailing. The district experienced what Stockdale calls an “implementation dip.” For a year, test scores fell while educators worked out the kinks of the 1-to-1 program and continued training. Stockdale says he faced some criticism, but the teachers, the community, and most board members stood behind him.
Now, scores have rebounded. For example, the middle school’s state rating went from a D during the implementation dip to an A last year, according to the state education department.
Amber L. Hartsough, the president of the J.E. Ober Elementary School PTA, says the positive effects of Stockdale’s efforts are evident. Students created a video to highlight why they needed a new playground, for example, which they posted on the school website.
“My 1st grader knows more about technology than I do,” she says. “In today’s world, they’re going to need that.”
Coverage of leadership, expanded learning time, and arts education is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, at www.wallacefoundation.org.