Magazine article Leadership

Building a Digital Learning Village: Bakersfield's District-Wide Learning Portal Connects Educators to Best Practices, Lesson Plans, Instructional Material and One Another

Magazine article Leadership

Building a Digital Learning Village: Bakersfield's District-Wide Learning Portal Connects Educators to Best Practices, Lesson Plans, Instructional Material and One Another

Article excerpt

Two years ago Mike Lingo watched his wife, a kindergarten teacher, navigate a mountain of paper and books in the hopes of building her plans for the week. It was like this every week--a struggle. Lingo, the superintendent of the Bakersfield City School District, knew there had to be a better way. It was at that moment that the vision was born.

Lingo was fairly well versed with computers, though he was not, by any means, an expert. But he knew enough to understand that technology could and should be harnessed as a tool to make planning, preparation and organization easier for teachers.

The next day, Lingo presented a challenge to the district's assistant superintendent, Marvin Jones. He wanted Jones to find technology that would allow teachers to organize and store lesson plans in a digital format.

Jones thought to himself, "He doesn't have a clue what he's asking for," as he searched his mind for a single example of a school district that had done such a thing. His fears were confirmed when he raised the issue with the county office of education's information technology leader. The tech expert noted that he had not heard of any such program, but quipped, "If you find it, I sure would like to see it."

At that point, Jones knew his challenge was great so he brought his leadership team together, shared the superintendent's vision, and the group launched an extensive search.

The Bakersfield vision

"All children can learn. The district and community have a moral and professional obligation to respect each child's ability to learn by providing a high-quality, effective and caring learning experience."

That's the Bakersfield City School District's vision statement and its commitment to the community. As California's largest elementary school district, it serves a diverse student population. It is unique and the district's leadership wanted to ensure that its technology solution would be much more than an "off-the-shelf" computer program.

The district demanded a solution that would meet its high standards, and thus began a partnership with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to customize a program called Learning Village.

Kathy Walker, director of curriculum and standards for the district, traveled to a school district in North Carolina to see firsthand the potential that existed in Learning Village. But she knew that much work needed to be done at the district to make sure the program would meet her high standards. She was both skeptical and apprehensive but also committed to moving forward to see if this program truly could work.

From Walker's perspective there were two issues. First, she needed to know that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt would make this project a priority. Without a full commitment and investment of time and energy, she knew this wouldn't work. Secondly, Learning Village would have to be scaled to the district's specifications.

The technology partnership

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt quickly engaged the district and set out to tailor Learning Village. Working closely with district officials, a "dashboard" was created that contained all of the links and resources teachers would need to most effectively use the technology. Uploading lesson plans and instructional materials for all grades and subjects, and integrating them with summaries of the California academic standards, would all be critical.

The other critical action was to integrate Learning Village with SmartBoard technology. The district and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt were also partnering with a SmartBoard reseller, IVS, to complement Learning Village and help teachers deliver the curriculum to students. …

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