The idea of preparing schools for the future had been long been a goal of mine: the notion of putting technology tools in the hands of each individual student, along with the guidance that would help them achieve success.
In 2016, I joined the Franklin Township School District in Somerset County as supervisor of instructional technology. There, my team and I set out to accomplish the goal of becoming truly Future Ready.
One of my first tasks was to begin putting the district and our schools on track to become candidates for the Future Ready Schools – New Jersey (FRS-NJ) certification program. Future Ready Schools – New Jersey is a program that sets benchmarks for schools and districts, and grants Future Ready certification to those that reach them. Creating a three-year technology plan, developing a one-to-one tech program at one district school, and integrating an online professional development course registration system would all prove to be integral in moving the process forward.
The Technology Plan: Roadmap to Success The technology plan is the soil from which all tech projects come to life. Development of the plan is a worthwhile exercise for a district-wide technology committee, spearheaded by the supervisor of instructional technology. At this stage, key stakeholders get the opportunity to make an honest assessment of the district’s needs and to dream, realistically, about the possibilities.
In Franklin Township, the assessment process was aided by the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE) NJ Traxx website, a valuable resource with tools to help evaluate a district’s current technological capabilities and readiness for implementation, based on the “Seven Gears” of FRS-NJ. But prior to that, establishing a technology committee was a pivotal initial step. Assembling an inclusive body of administrators and staff members sets the stage for the appropriate distribution of work and responsibilities. It also ensures that all voices are represented at the table. Our tech committee included the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction; director of technology; director of planning, research, assessment, and accountability; content supervisors; principals; assistant principals; instructional technology coaches; the building technology committee chairperson, and select staff from each school. The committee continues to meet on a monthly basis.
The District’s Vision The tech committee together reviewed the district’s Instructional Vision Statement, and matched it against our technology goals. We then constructed six technology goals that would become the bedrock of all of our technology efforts moving forward.
The sixth goal – to participate in the Future Ready Schools – NJ Certification Program – was established even before guidelines for participation were confirmed. We just knew we wanted to be among the districts to be considered Future Ready, and we were setting ourselves up to meet any and all requirements.
The final step in the technology plan process was development of a three-year Implementation and Strategies Table for each goal, which was then approved by the Franklin Township Board of Education. The result, our Three-Year Technology Plan, is a living document.
While we had already begun the process of developing an overall technology plan, setting the goal of becoming a Future Ready School challenged us to integrate our strategies with an eye toward obtaining certification. Without a well-crafted technology plan, achieving Future Ready Certification would have been difficult, at best.
Future Ready Certification Program: Don’t Rest on Your Laurels
In January 2017, the superintendent, assistant superintendent and I attended the National Future Ready Summit, sponsored by FRS-NJ at NJIT. This provided the opportunity to learn more about the Future Ready Framework, and how schools can be certain they are preparing students for college and careers in the digital age. After the summit, I scheduled a series of professional development sessions with our district instructional technology coaches and District Technology Committee. These training sessions provided teams with additional knowledge of the Future Ready Framework.
Over the next few months it was business as usual. The district and school technology committees continued to meet monthly. Although there was a bit of a lull in the process, we did not rest on our laurels. Instead, we took advantage of opportunities to be involved in the developmental underpinnings of the program.
I participated on the FRS-NJ Education and Classroom Practice Task Force, and was able to meet other educators and learn more about the FRS-NJ Certification program. Members of our District Technology Committee, the superintendent, assistant superintendent, board of education members, director of technology, instructional technology coaches, a teacher and I also attended the Future Ready Schools – NJ Certification Summit. This event provided information, guidance, and support to begin the process of certification. Having central administration and school board members attend was important because it created buy-in on their part, and fostered their desire to support the project.
Developing our Game Plan
On May 17, 2017, our District Technology Committee met to form our game plan. We came up with the following:
- We divided all the Future Ready indicators into two levels: district-level indicators and school-level indicators.
- Each school decided whether it had the human resources to apply for certification. One challenge we faced was that, due to a district referendum project, our last available day of school was June 15, 2017, in order to provide time for summer construction. This meant we had a window of five weeks to complete the certification process.Six out of nine schools decided to “go for it.” It was exciting when each school completed the commitment phase, and was announced in the FRS-NJ website and Twitter feed. We were proud that MacAfee Road Elementary School was recognized as the first school to complete the FRS-NJ certification commitment phase.
- Each district instructional technology coach was assigned to two schools. Their role was to assist the school and become the liaison between school and district teams.
- The district-level team members divided district-level indicators into three categories:
- Plenty / readily available evidence;
- Moderate amount of evidence, but we have to search; and
- Little evidence available.
- The school certification teams did step B above, for their indicators.
- We decided to obtain as much evidence as possible, to go beyond minimum point requirements in each section.
- All submissions were done online. Schools had to use the FRS-NJ Indicator Tracking Sheet, which is a Google Sheet. All evidence had to be housed in a shared Google Drive. Each school had to copy the FRS-NJ Indicator Tracking Sheet, and each indicator had a column titled “Links to Evidence” where you would place the Google web URL that pointed to the directory corresponding evidence.
For each school FRS-NJ indicator tracking sheet, I added another column called “District Links to Evidence,” where we placed the Google web URL pointing to the directory corresponding to district-level evidence. Since district-level evidence is the same for each school, this gave the schools more time to focus on school-level indicators.
Since the due date was June 30, our school teams worked beyond our last day of school on June 15 to complete the process. We had a few work session meetings where we gathered all FRS-NJ school team leaders to work together. This provided the opportunity to review evidence, bounce around ideas, and address any concerns or obstacles. In the end, as a district we were proud of the work we did in a matter of five weeks to complete the certification process. Each school team leader notified me when they were ready to finalize their certification. This was a district technology team-building event.
Yeah! Six Schools Certified
Whew! We were finished and summer 2017 arrived. In regard to FRS-NJ Certification, things were pretty quiet. On July 31, 2017, we received an email from Jeremy Reich, of FRS-NJ, that the New Jersey Awards Committee was reviewing, processing, and providing feedback on the certification submissions of the 60-plus schools which had submitted for the inaugural awards cycle. A few days later, school team leaders received a Google access drive message to indicate the evaluation process had begun.
By September, there was still no word on our schools’ status. On Sept. 13, 2017, Sampson G. Smith Intermediate School and Franklin Middle School were the first schools to be notified. We were excited! The building principals notified central administration of the good news.
This was an exciting and suspenseful time, as we were thrilled for Sampson G. Smith Intermediate and Franklin Middle schools, but wondering about the status of the other four schools. Then on Sept. 15, 2017, three more schools were notified. Wow! We were really excited, five out of six schools so far.
For the final school, the recognition committee had a question about some of the education indicators. That school team provided additional documentation. On Sept. 25, 2017, that school received notification of achieving FRS – NJ Certification too. The Franklin community celebrated this achievement. Local news outlets, including the Franklin Reporter and a local TAPinto online news site, featured articles about the Future Ready Schools Certification Program.
FRS-NJ School Teams were honored at the October Board of Education meeting. And representatives of each school team were able to attend the NJSBA Future Ready School Award Ceremony at NJSBA’s Workshop 2017, and received their banner.
2018 FRS-NJ Certification Cohort – The other three schools
On Oct. 4, 2017, we had our first District Technology Meeting for the 2017-2018 school year. We allocated time to reflect on the FRS-NJ process, and discuss the next steps. Even though our schools were certified, this process indicated which areas we are doing well in, and which we need to improve. In addition, we will re-administer the NJTraxx digital learning surveys.
Using this data, we evaluated our District Technology Plan, and schools established building-level technology goals. The three remaining schools included “Future Ready School Certification – 2018 Cohort” as one of their technology goals for 2017-2018. These schools formed a Future Ready School Certification committee and began working to complete the commitment phase of the Future Ready School Certification Process.
These schools will be ready to apply for certification in 2018.