Private Sector Technology Experience Applied to a School District
After teaching high school biology for 13 years and being a principal in districts in and around Rochester, N.Y., a life change in 1993 moved Raymond J. Fashano from the comfort of a school to the thrill of the sales team of Dynacom, a company that helped clients implement technology into their business.
Fashano's clients were largely school districts wanting to work video and sound into their classrooms. "When I took the job it's why they wanted me," he says, thanks to his years of knowing which classroom tools could enhance the learning experience. "The fun thing in those days was learning the technology side. It became very interesting. Dynacom had people working within very small companies, who got to work with Microsoft. It was a real learning experience for me."
Fashano largely sold video and sound equipment, working with school districts across the country to implement fiber optics as they had been used in other business venues. "It was the early '90s, so it was pretty cutting edge at the time," he recalls. Although most of his time was spent explaining concepts to people, he says he really felt at the time that technology would only influence society and "the students of the future." "In those days we'd say there was more technology at McDonald's or in students' homes than there was in the school districts," he adds.
When Fashano left Dynacom to reenter academe as Jamestown's superintendent, he had clear ideas for what he'd implement in his new district, thanks to his private sector experience and a handy questionnaire he sent to faculty to evaluate what they were and weren't getting from their district.
Fashano soon learned that the facilities needed upgrading, from newer laboratory hoods in the science classrooms to buying new sinks with no leaks.
But Jamestown also had technology troubles, where pockets of technology were far from even. "It was almost like the haves and the have-nots," says Fashano. Those who asked for technology loudest had received it. So Fashano had his work cut out for him to even the tech playing field among his six elementary schools, three middle schools and one high school, but his technically global ideas were welcome. "I'd learned so much in the field of technology that to be able to use the experience was probably a turning point in getting the job because people were looking for a superintendent who understood it," he says. "I still had to go through stages to show people what was happening in the outside world."
Technology Pilot Program
Soon after his hiring, Fashano implemented a pilot system in 10 Jamestown classrooms comprising a voice, data and video system. This trifecta would make teaching easier, in his mind. Since then, technology has spread across the district. Jamestown became one of the first school districts in the country to use fiber optic cables for transmitting data using unlimited bandwidth that now connects each school. An electronic "bulletin board" pops up when administrators log in to the system, where they can look at everything from curricula, to maps, to the No Child Left Behind law pages pertaining to the district. And schools have better reached their potential thanks to the constant presence of technology in Jamestown's classrooms. "If you give teachers the right tools, their creative juices start to flow. We've been at it for five, six years, and [now] we're at the 'it's neat' stage."
Implementing the Tech Trifecta
Here's Fashano's plan for injecting voice, data and video in classrooms:
1. The voice aspect-installing telephone service in classrooms-aligned with Fashano's desire to give Jamestown teachers the tools they needed to be good professionals and people. "I always felt [strongly] about treating teachers as professionals." A phone would allow them to connect with the parents of their students and it would allow them to call their own families to check in.
2. The new data system allowed teachers to communicate with each other- e-mailing questions to each other and getting student test scores, thus saving precious handwriting time.
3. The video component was important to Fashano because, like in theatre, the kids in the back rows deserved to see what was going on up front, too. Video projections did the trick.
Power from the People
Jamestown's technology overhaul came to a certain degree through grants, but it was largely through voters passing some $134 million in referendums to ensure that the district's technology would be brought up to speed. "One thing I think is a big obstacle in being a superintendent is figuring out money, especially when a school district is low-wealth, high-poverty, and there's not much property to tax," Fashano says. "Jamestown has been lucky; because of the high poverty level we get more state aid. That's why we've been able to do more."
Jamestown Technical Academy
Part of Fashano's tech plan was opening the Jamestown Technical Academy during the 2004-2005 school year. With courses in manufacturing and robotics, small engine and motorcycle repair, health care and tourism programs, and desktop publishing, 80 students received career-oriented training throughout grades 9-12. Today the school has approximately 224 students. "It's a different niche for kids who might not always be college bound," Fashano notes.
Blue Ribbon School
When Fashano started at Jamestown, one of its neediest schools was Love Elementary. With 90 percent of its students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, Love also lacked the money for technology tools to appropriately teach its students and the money to train the teachers who would instruct them.
Today, with a principal change, a staff newly dedicated to a research-based model for learning, and an entirely remodeled and technology-enhanced building thanks to town-voted appropriations, Love has become a Blue Ribbon School under NCLB standards. For Love's teachers, says Fashano, "it makes going to work a little easier."
Jennifer Chase Esposito is a contributing editor.