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Monday, January 27, 2014

Technology in the Classroom

Ah, the good old days--
Remember your excitement when the door of the classroom opened and someone from the AV crew wheeled in a cart with a film projector?  Can you also remember watching the complicated process as your teacher skillfully threaded a film through the projector? 
Film Projector - Early 1960s - Courtesy of Peter Parish/Redwood High School

As a student back in the day, I was grateful for the change of pace that "technology" provided, and I recall the disappointment when a film or projector broke mid-viewing.  It seemed so luxurious when we finally had TVs and VCRs in classrooms--it was less likely for the technology to malfunction, plus, we had a greater variety of videos to watch!  We may remember those days with nostalgia, but our own children cannot imagine a world where the extent of technology is a VHS player.
Although the types of technology available to teachers and students have changed rapidly over the past few decades, one fundamental question about schools remains the same.  How do we ensure that every student in every classroom receives high quality instruction, and how can the available technology support learning?  In other words, in our current world of gadgets and unlimited access to information, we must recognize that learning is still a function of teachers and students working together towards a shared outcome.  Technology enhances but does not replace great teaching and successful learning.
At the Tamalpais Union High School District, we have taken a very thoughtful approach to the roll-out of technology in classrooms.  For at least the last decade, our technology plans have been based on the premise that our first responsibility is to provide high quality instruction and that technology is a tool to support learning, rather than something we distribute and then hope for the best.  Two examples of our technology approach are the Classroom 2020 project and the Instructional Technology Teacher Collaborative.
Classroom 2020
During the process of modernizing our schools, we created innovative classrooms at Redwood, Tam, and Drake that are modeled after Wallenberg Hall at Stanford University.  These rooms are referred to as "2020 classrooms," and are outfitted with a variety of high tech teaching tools, such as interactive whiteboards, laptops, HDTVs, and large video screens.  2020 classrooms also have wheeled furniture that can be easily moved and can be converted into as many configurations as the teacher can imagine.  2020 classrooms are available for our teachers to use on a one-time basis or for a semester so that they can experiment with a variety of high- and low-tech tools to enhance their instruction.
Instructional Technology Teacher Collaborative
TUHSD has implemented a two-year professional development program for our experienced teachers to provide training and time to collaborate in order to create project-based instruction in alignment with the new Common Core standards as well as the district mission.  Teachers work together to create experiences where students will use skills and information to solve real world problems.  34 teachers are participating in this program during the 2013-2014 school year, and 38 more will begin the program this summer.  Participating teachers receive a classroom set of iPads after about six months of training.  In fact, over the past two weeks, 1,080 iPads have been delivered to participating teachers who are now ready to begin to use them to support their instruction.  This professional development program demonstrates our commitment to train teachers prior to the distribution of technology.

Students at work in Ms. Tucker's classroom at Tam High
As I visit our classrooms and watch our teachers and students engage thoughtfully with technology, my nostalgia for the simple days of the movie projector wane, and I imagine the possibilities that technology will provide for our students of the future.  Whatever the future holds, and no matter the latest technology trend, it's great to live and work in a district where the first priority is learning, and where students have access to a variety of technology to enhance their experience.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

State Aid to TUHSD will not Increase with New State Funding Formula

For the past several years, about 96% of Tamalpais Union High School District revenue has been generated locally through property taxes, parcel taxes, and foundation fundraising.  Community members are sometimes surprised to find out that roughly 3% of our district revenue comes from state aid.  This very low percentage is the result of cuts from the state of California during the years of the recent recession.
It is important for our parents, staff, and community to understand that despite reports in the media about increases to school funding because of a new law known as "Local Control Funding Formula," or "LCFF," the Tamalpais Union High School District will not receive an increase in state funding.  The state revenue cuts we experienced during the recession will not be restored and our district will continue to rely almost exclusively on local funding.  About 90% of the school districts in California will experience increases in state aid over the coming years due to the rather complicated new formula, which increases the amount of funding for low-income and English Language Learner students.  However, TUHSD is one of about 10% of school districts in California that will not see an increase in state revenue as a result of the "Local Control Funding Formula."
One positive aspect of the new formula is that TUHSD will be "held harmless" at our 2012-2013 state aid level.  In other words, the state cannot cut our funding even lower than they already have.
Another very interesting aspect of the "Local Control Funding Formula" law is that all districts, including those who receive no additional money, will be held accountable to the state laws through the creation and submission of "Local Control Accountability Plans."  Although the State Board of Education has not yet released the specific template, TUHSD will need to create a written plan that will include details of how we are spending locally-generated money to increase the achievement of our low income and English Language Learner students.  Fortunately, our district strategic plan addresses issues of student achievement, and we already have plans in place to assist all students--including those from low-income families and English Language Learners.
As more information about the "Local Control Accountability Plan" becomes available from the State Board of Education, it will be posted on the TUHSD website at www.tamdistrict.org.