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San Lorenzo Unified School District: California district deploys ambitious 1:1 initiative to increase student engagement and achievement

California district deploys ambitious 1:1 initiative to increase student engagement and achievement

An education-first mindset

San Lorenzo Unified School District (USD) had maintained a traditional, department-based structure comprised of a Director of IT and a Director of Instructional Materials and Technology until Superintendent Fred Brill integrated the services of both departments and placed an educator at the helm. This new approach to technology prioritized teaching and learning objectives and put the needs of students first.

Where most school districts have a business-minded IT Director, San Lorenzo USD has Sam Sakai-Miller. An educator at heart, she taught for 10 years, served as a Curriculum Coordinator, is a published author and researcher, and earned advanced degrees in educational technology. Sakai-Miller’s hybrid roles as Director of Technology Integration Services is new to the district.

Challenges and possibilities
San Lorenzo USD isn’t your typical school district, either. Nearly three-quarters of the district’s students are eligible for free or reduced price meals, are English language learners, foster students, homeless or in special education. Adding to the complexity is the fact that many students have limited access to technology outside of school. Under these conditions, an achievement gap took hold.

California’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) and associated need-based funding afforded San Lorenzo USD the chance institute monumental, far-reaching technology upgrades. But district administrators acknowledged quickly that access to technology alone would do little to turn the tide. What they needed – and what Sakai-Miller rendered – was a teacher-centered plan to create a groundswell of support and galvanize the district’s mission to close the achievement gap.

In 2014, that plan arrived as Project LEAN In.

 Aspiration and reality  
If Project LEAN In is anything, it’s ambitious. The plan is to implement a 1:1 student-to-device ratio in all classrooms as a way of increasing student engagement and achievement.

“Going 1:1 isn’t easy,” Sakai-Miller said. “It takes funding, professional learning, community buy-in and probably more patience than anyone expects. Project LEAN In is succeeding because it addresses those challenges directly and values teachers’ point of view. It’s really not just about the devices.”

This sober, methodical perspective is apparent in the thoughtful way San Lorenzo USD structured Project LEAN In. Rather than simply purchasing scores of devices, dropping them into classrooms and walking away, Sakai-Miller and her staff devised a cycle-based technology rollout. In each of the three cycles, dubbed “cohorts” at San Lorenzo USD, teachers can apply to receive a LocknCharge cart full of Google Chromebooks and up to $1,000 in stipends.

The process is rigorous, competitive and fun. Once selected, teachers participate in a deliberate implementation plan that includes initial training, follow-up sessions, troubleshooting help and coaching from teachers on special assignment (TSA). At the kickoff, teachers complete eight sessions in all, giving them the knowledge, technical skills and – importantly – confidence to run a 1:1 classroom to its full potential.

Teachers are so enthusiastic about the program that San Lorenzo USD invented a system of professional learning badges to recognize their growth. They are also encouraged to blog about their journey.  

Practical considerations
Sakai-Miller’s decade of classroom teaching experience makes her especially attune to the needs of educators. She realized from the onset that the process of deploying Chromebooks to every student, every class period would rob teachers of precious instructional time. What’s more, the devices need be recharged regularly and stored securely.  

Because of these practical needs, LocknCharge carts are central to San Lorenzo USD’s 1:1 initiative. Instead of a singular distribution point, teachers use eight baskets throughout their classrooms to quickly disburse and collect their Chromebooks. The devices are charged once for the day, and they’re secure when class isn’t in session.

“Any time you introduce devices into classrooms, you also introduce additional responsibility, administrative tasks and stress for teachers,” Sakai-Miller said. “These LocknCharge carts significantly reduce those burdens for our teachers.”

So far, so good
Enthusiasm for Project LEAN In is surpassing everyone’s expectations. After three “cohort” application cycles, the district has delivered 154 LocknCharge carts outfitted with Chromebooks. Demand for the carts from teachers has consistently outpaced supply, and the district’s school board and leadership – grasping the benefits of Project LEAN In – has made it a priority to fund as many teacher requests as possible.

For Sakai–Miller, who always strives to adopt a teacher’s outlook, the positive response is an early signal that technology integration at San Lorenzo USD is gaining critical mass.

“Our teachers are excited,” she said. “You can see that they’re energetic, revitalized. And that has a direct impact on all of our students.”

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