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All Makes and Models

The possibilities are nearly endless when educators form bonds with tech companies.

The possibilities are nearly endless when educators form bonds with tech companies. “You can plug into a whole new group of folks who will have creative ideas and who will become huge boosters for public education,” says Robin Willner, director of corporate community relations at IBM. Consider the following snapshots of successful partnerships:

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT: The School District of Philadelphia and IBM

With partnerships, one project often leads to another. Such was the case in one of three Philadelphia schools chosen to work with IBM through a Reinventing Education grant in the mid- ’90s. A company researcher assigned to Clara Barton Elementary School to create a new professional development model was also developing software called Watch-me!-Read, incorporating interactive speech recognition technology. Missing from his project: student

voices needed to create the voice module. Because Barton “really is a microcosm of diversity,” says Principal Bill Lee, it was the perfect site for research, which was spread out over the course of a year. The school, in turn, received free software and the satisfaction of knowing they helped in product development.

PILOT TEST (NEW PRODUCT): Houston Independent School District and IBM

Building on the work done in Philadelphia, IBM awarded a grant to Houston for Watch-me!-Read pilot testing and implementation. Current Superintendent Kaye Stripling, who was an area superintendent at the time the deal was made, says the software was a good fit with the district’s balanced approach to reading efforts. She was especially impressed with the progress that monolingual Spanish-speaking children got from the program, which has now been expanded to all 146 elementary schools in the district. Taking teacher suggestions into account, IBM adapted the software to meet district needs. “They’ve really been a solid partner in this,” Stripling says.

PILOT TEST (PRODUCT NEW TO EDUCATION): Virginia Beach City Public Schools and YnotLearn

“We had a roomful of excited administrators and teachers,” says Pat Konopnicki, director of technical and career education for the district, of the reaction to the idea of testing YnotLearn’s e-learning solution. “It’s cutting edge.” Designed to facilitate education and training online, the product had not yet been used in schools. But President Christopher Bryant saw its potential for tracking student competency skills and ultimately saving teachers time. The tool allows students to access their own records, and Bryant looks forward to seeing them test it out. “These kids will come in ? and bang away at our products, and do what kids do best, which is break software applications!” The feedback will help the company to hone the solution, and the district will get free access to the program.

PILOT TEST (PRODUCT APPLICATION EXPANSION): Prince George’s County, Md., and Texas Instruments

Ken Schwartz, a secondary instructional assistant in the math department of this district’s Instructional Support Services Center, knew the TI Keyboard for handhelds had lots of potential uses in subjects other than math. The company had an idea, and now four math, science and social studies teachers at Frederick Douglas High School are trying out various content uses of the technology, with equipment provided by TI. The partnership also involves organizing districtwide keyboard workshops for middle and high school teachers.

CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT/TECH SUPPORT: Poway Unified School District, Gateway Business

Like many districts, Poway has a short-staffed IT department—meaning tech support questions may take some time to get answered. The Gateway Computer Tech Support Program, a co-developed two-year course of study, has helped by giving students the skills needed to earn A+ Certification. At Rancho Bernardo High School, students can get credit for working in the IT department during the school year, explains Assistant Principal Paul Robinson. In the summer, the school itself and local companies hire student IT interns—with pay—for repair work and networking support. “Some of those kids have gotten fabulous jobs when they’ve gotten out of school,” says Irene Frank, director of the district’s Partners in Education office.

EDUCATIONAL PROCESS IMPROVEMENT: San Francisco Unified School District and IBM

What educator wouldn’t want to reduce paperwork while increasing service to students? San Francisco sought to increase accountability in an existing statemandated process. When a child had an academic, behavioral or health problem, who would ensure that an intervention took place? The district worked with IBM to implement the Learning Village communications framework and adapt one of its tools to strengthen support for students with unique learning needs. Using the tool, teachers, parents, administrators and community members can discuss a student’s case in a confidential online setting. Deborah McKnight, interim executive director of special education services, says that “the tool puts into place best practices.” Before, no system existed to direct educators to the best course of action in providing students with needed assistance.