The Ottumwa Courier

May 15, 2013

Classrooms will look different with the Legacy Foundation grant

By MARK NEWMAN Courier staff writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — OTTUMWA — What does a classroom look like after school leaders get a check for a million dollars? Ottumwans are about to find out.

"Our vision with this gift is to see a lot more access for students," said Ottumwa schools Superintendent Davis Eidahl. "We can immediately start purchasing twice the amount of what we'd budgeted for our K-12 classrooms."

Earlier this week, the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation announced a donation of more than $1.3 million. The money will come over the course of three years.

"You'll also start to see more student use, less teacher use of technology," said Eidahl on Tuesday. "Our teachers have done a great job of learning how to use computer applications, an interactive board, a projector. But we want this [type] of technology in the hands of our students more often than our teachers."

When the Legacy Foundation's Brad Little and Tom Lazio gave the district the check on behalf of their board, they sounded most proud of the work they and the district had done to ensure this grant means something, that this proposal, developed over 18 months, makes a lasting change.

Little, CEO of the foundation, has frequently stated that the purpose of the trust has very little to do with randomly throwing money at community problems. Eidahl, too, said the money is great but the partnerships being developed in the region may be even more exciting. The Legacy Foundation, John Deere, the Area Education Agency and other organizations will continue to work with the district to make sure it is taking the correct steps to move along the path to its goal.

"The foundation and our other partners want to ensure we reach our vision, a quality education for each and every student," Eidahl said. "Our approach to technology is through the lens of instruction. So while developing our vision over [the course of about a year], we focused on how to integrate technology through a rigorous curriculum and quality instruction. Our approach is to use technology as one of many tools, to deepen that learning of the Iowa core curriculum."

Little said when deciding who to give grants to, the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation board members have to ask themselves, "How can we help Ottumwa grow?" So they maintain a "laser-like focus" on their strategic plan, Little said. That means picking a few important topics and supporting them: jobs, leadership, education, revitalization and infrastructure.

Both he and Lazio said the grant covers more than just a truckload of computers and software. Lazio said expensive computers that don't work are not a good investment. That's been addressed to the Legacy Foundation's satisfaction, both with a group of community partners to keep the district on track and the district's blueprint for successful technology use.

"With this gift from the Legacy Foundation," said Eidahl, "we're looking at five components in our plan: hardware, software, access, professional development and technical support."

Hardware and software are the computers themselves and the programs to run them. Access means students and teachers being able to use the technology.

"What we did not want to do is jumping to a laptop for every student. That's not what the one-to-one initiative means," the superintendent said.

What he and the team wanted was a variety of technology tools so that if a student studying science would be better served by a tablet device, they could access that, or if they needed a laptop during English class, they'd be able to get that instead. That allows teachers to offer a variety of instruction so that each and every child can have a successful post-secondary experience. In fact, Eidahl declared, that's what a one-to-one initiative means, because success looks different for every student.

At the beginning of this coming school year, fourth-graders reporting for small-group instruction will see five laptops ready for their use in every classroom.

Technical support is vital, foundation and district officials said.

"We need to make sure it's always up and running," Lazio said.

"We have two technicians working for the district," Eidahl said. "We're going to hire a third because of the influx of hardware."

Eidahl is also maintaining his pattern when it comes to teaching the teachers. It's a key factor in student achievement.

"We have media specialists in the district who are [our] librarians," he said. "Right now, we are using our media specialists to do professional development for staff, too, [which means] they are stretched thin. So we're going to hire a technology coach to aid with professional development, to teach them how to integrate technology into instruction."

Wouldn't universities teach upcoming teachers how to do that?

"This is changing so fast, we want to keep our teachers current," said Eidahl. "The children we teach are keeping up with the changes. We need to as well."

To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark