By Bill Britt
Latino Policy Connection Contributing Writer
When it comes to finding different ways to get technology into more California schools, Dr. Darryl Adams should be regarded as a pioneer. As the superintendent of schools for the Coachella Valley Unified School District, Adams heads up one of the poorest school districts in the nation but he relies on a toolbox of rich ideas.
“I kind of consider myself the messenger for the movement of a 21st Century education,” he said, just moments after sharing his message with attendees at the Latino Policy Forum’s “21st Century Cities and Schools” on the campus at Cal State LA where he repeated his favorite mantra: “It’s time to leave no child offline, as opposed to leaving no child behind, because if we don’t have them connected we surely will leave them behind.”
Adams, along with Dr. Vanitha Chandrasekhar, the Education Technology Coordinator for the Long Beach USD and Rancho Minerva Middle School principal Ben Gaines from the Vista USD were panelists for the Forum’s “Wired Schools” workshop, a 90-minute show-and-share discussion about using new technologies to approve academic achievement.
“One of the biggest things we have to realize,” Chandrasekhar said, “is students today are digital natives. They’ve been born and brought up with technology and they’re used to it. We need to give them the ability to use it effectively for their own learning.”
Coachella landed in the national spotlight when President Obama singled it out at last year’s White House ConnectEd Conference, which seeks to empower classrooms with technology and connect all students to high-speed Internet. Adams, who had been invited to the event by the President, was more than delighted to hear Obama heap praise on his school district’s plan to expand internet access to Coachella’s east valley with Wi-Fi routers mounted on school buses.
“This is really smart,” Obama said at the time. “You’ve got underutilized resources — buses in the evening — so you put the routers on, disperse them, and suddenly everybody is connected. Now it’s not just students who can get online. It’s their families as well.”
Chandrasekhar says that type of success comes from having a plan. “When we just bring the technology in, put it in the classrooms without any support, without any training or purpose it sits there and it’s not as effective as it could be.”
Coachella’s planning stage resulted in the district’s Educational Technology Division. After all, Adams explains, “We have information technology [IT] support, but you’ll need educational technology support for teachers. You’ll want to cross-train your IT and Ed Tech teams and have them work with teachers and administrators. That cuts down on a lot of despair and people not being certain about what they’re doing.”
And according to Adams, there was no despair among educators who’ve been teaching long enough to literally be referred to as Old School. “We have a teacher certification program in educational technology called the Samari Program to help train teachers on how to transfer to a 21st century style [of teaching.] We’re very excited to see that everyone is willing to make the change.”
Forum attendee Liliana Monge is a co-founder of Sabio, LA, an innovative developer training program aimed at attracting women and people of color. She’s hoping Adams’ road to success will be well-traveled by policymakers eager to follow his lead.
“Everyone has to finally contend with this tech elephant in the room. We no longer have the ability to say technology is something that’s optional. It’s not. I told Dr. Adams that he’s been to the promised land. He knows it’s real and he’s going to help all of us get there. And that’s what we all need to aspire to.”
Coachella Valley Unified School District is using technology to change the classroom and student’s lives. Watch their video: