National Award

"Chase the Mouse"

Online research, document cameras and fiber optics are transforming the way students learn in district classrooms. Recently, the district won national recognition for its innovative use of technology in schools.

The American Association of School Administrators named Bethel as one of 18 national winners of the “Superintendent’s Technology Award.” Bethel was the only school district in the Northwest to earn the distinction. More than 180 districts across the country applied for the honor.

“This award targets those school superintendents who have successfully integrated technology in all aspects of school life,” said AASA Executive Director Paul Houston.

A nationwide panel of school leaders chose the winners based on seven criteria: impact on instruction, staff training, innovation, improvement, sustainability, leadership and community recognition.

“This is considered the most prestigious technology award for school districts in the nation,” said Superintendent Tom Seigel. “It’s a real honor to our entire community.”

More with less
The district technology team has focused on doing more with less.

“We’ve really accomplished a lot on a shoestring budget,” said JB Fitzpatrick, director of information services. “Our primary focus has been to equip each classroom with a standards-based computer, improve network resources, and aggressively pursue technology grants.”

A standards-based computer is a machine that has a CD Rom and network card while meeting state standards regarding speed and storage space.

The award shows how far the district has come in the last three years. In 2002, only 40 percent of classrooms had a standards-based computer. By September 2004, each classroom computer met standard.

World of difference
The payoff comes in better teaching and learning. Throughout the district, students use technology to find information, organize presentations and make learning relevant.

“I can’t imagine life without it,” said Spanaway Jr. High Honors teacher Skip Wolfe. “It allows the kids to become the teachers. They use Powerpoint and i-Movie all the time to make presentations. Technology reaches kids in a way that nothing else can.”

Naches Trail first-grade teacher Erin Anderson uses document cameras to improve student achievement. Teachers and students use the device to project images on a screen. They place the object - a storybook, photo, or even a rock - under the camera.

“In my class, I use the document camera at least two hours a day,” she said. “I recently used it to show the class a plant and seed pod. The seeds were tiny, but you could see them under the document camera. The technology brings learning to life.”

Grant winners
In tough budget times, district teachers have relied on technology grants - many through the Gates Foundation - to achieve “technology-rich” classrooms. Such classrooms are defined as a student-to-computer ratio of 4:1. Since 2000, more than 90 teachers have landed outside grants.

The district supplements these grants with a “Coaching and Leadership” (CaL) grant at each school. CaL grant winners receive equipment to create a technology-rich classroom. In return, they serve as mentors to other staff members. Their goal is to help colleagues integrate technology into everyday instruction.

Other ways district staff and students use technology include:

  • Video editing:  students edit video and music as part of the daily newscasts; they direct and edit films in video productions classes
  • PLATO:  an online curriculum that allows students access to public education without physically being in the classroom
  • Internet subscriptions:  services like Grolier’s Encyclopedia, Proquest (online magazine, newspaper and journal service); AP Photo Archive, United Streaming (2,000 online videos from the Discovery Channel and PBS); and Net Trekker (links to 180,000 standard-based educational Web sites)
  • Student portal:  an Internet destination, specifically designed for district students, that allows users to access online learning resources in a single location
  • SWIFT:  a new tool that allows teachers to create classroom Web sites
  • Summer technology program:  an award-winning program that allows select high school students to work with technicians on repairs, load software, and set up hardware and inventory.
  • Library system:  new computerized system that allows students computer access to materials from school or home
  • Student records system:  a tool that provides Web-based access to student information for all staff members, with possible future access for students and parents
  • First Class:  communications system that enables staff to set up online conferences
  • District/School Web sites:  school sites allow students to apply Web-design learning; district site ( won state award in 2004
  • Wireless lab:  each of the district’s eight secondary schools has a wireless mobile lab
  • Online testing:  3,000 students took end-of-course math assessments online last year; plans are in place to do the same in communication arts
  • Special education:  staff use specially designed instruments and computers to help severely disabled students meet learning goals

A key to all of the above is last year’s infrastructure upgrade to a fiber optic system. While bids for a new fiber optic network started at $2 million, the district took advantage of a vendor’s planned expansion to negotiate a $350,000 deal.

“That was a huge breakthrough for us,” said Fitzpatrick. “It allowed us to connect the entire district to the fiber optic network all at once, rather than bit by bit. High-speed Internet now allows much greater efficiency and access to resources.”

Fitzpatrick foresees even more use of instructional technology.

“Our district has come a long way in terms of technology,” he said. “But we’re not going to stop now. We want to get better and better.”


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