A little while ago we sat down with Superintendent Randy Ziegenfuss and Assistant Superintendent Lynn Fuini-Hetten to talk about the Future Ready pledge, their plans for their district, and where they see education heading.
Below you will find more information about the Salisbury Township School District, Superintendent Ziegenfuss, and Assistant Superintendent Fuini-Hetten—please scroll down to read the interview itself.
About the Salisbury Township School District
Location: Allentown, PA
The Salisbury Township School District was recently recognized nationally as a Project RED Signature District and an Apple Distinguished Program. Salisbury has a long history of using technology in the classroom, and is leading the way in its use both in regards to implementation and in regards to professional development around implementation. Superintendent Ziegenfuss and Assistant Superintendent Fuini-Hetten co-host a podcast that deals with edtech, the use of data in education, and other topics related to education, which can be found at www.tltalkradio.org/.
Salisbury’s current initiative TL2020 (Teaching and Learning 2020) is representative of the district’s leadership in the use of technology in the classroom. TL2020 is the next phase in the development of teaching and learning that started in Salisbury with TL2014. TL2020 builds on the district’s successes at transforming teaching and learning through technology. The initiative offers increased learning opportunities by providing a personal computing device for each student (1:1), Kindergarten through Grade 12. Learn more about TL2020.
About Superintendent Randy Ziegenfuss
Superintendent Ziegenfuss has been with Salisbury Township since 2006. He began his work in administration in the district as the Director of Data and Technology, then went on to become Assistant Superintendent. He became Superintendent last January. Prior to his work in Salisbury, Dr. Ziegenfuss worked in the East Penn School District as a music teacher and then as an Instructional Technology Specialist.
Dr. Ziegenfuss holds a B.Mus. degree from Moravian College, an MA from Teachers College, Columbia University and a Doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. He is curious and passionate about learning and all things concerning education. In addition to presenting locally and nationally, he shares what he learns (and learns from others) regularly on Twitter @ and his blog.
About Assistant Superintendent Lynn Fuini-Hetten
Prior to her work as Assistant Superintendent Assistant Superintendent Fuini-Hetten has worked in various positions in Salisbury, including Supervisor of Instructional Practice, middle school teacher, instructional coach, instructional support teacher, and assistant principal. As a result of her work in the area of professional development, Salisbury Township School District was recently recognized nationally as a Project RED Signature District and an Apple Distinguished Program.
Ms. Fuini-Hetten holds a BS and an MS in elementary education from Kutztown University, principal certification from Penn State University, instructional technology certification from Kutztown University and is currently pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership from Wilkes University. In May 2014 Lynn received the Wanda McDaniel Award from the Women’s Caucus of PASA (Pennsylvania’s Association of School Administrators.) In addition to presenting locally, regionally and nationally, she is active in PASA through serving as PASA Professional Development Committee member and as a PASAWomen’s Caucus Executive Board member. Follow Lynn on Twitter @lfuinihetten or check out her blog sharetolearn.org.
The Interview Starts Here!
Q: To get started, can you fill us in on the district’s history regarding the use of education technology?
A: Today we have fully implemented 1:1 for all of our grades K-12, but about ten years ago the district looked very different. The superintendent and assistant superintendent at the time had a vision that technology was important, and that we needed to pay more attention to it. They created a position in the district that focused on technology, instruction, and curriculum, and that was the beginning of the conversation around how to use technology in the classroom.
Our long range plan was that ultimately every student would have access to a device. At this point information is limitless, and devices help our students access that information. So the question now is, how do we teach our students how to get the information they find, vet it, and solve real world problems?
Q: Why did you sign the Future Ready pledge?
A: For us, the direction of Future Ready is the direction that we are already taking the district and our students. For the last eight years we’ve been having the conversation about how to prepare students for the world they’ll face on graduation, and how technology fits into that preparation. So when the Future Ready Initiative was announced by the White House, it was just natural that we’d get involved.
We often find that the conversation around educational leadership tends to focus on accountability issues—those things that politicians find to be urgent, such as math scores or ELL, but which don’t necessarily address broader issues around what student need. School improvement is often just given a small sliver of attention when faced with these accountability issues.
While we think those issues are important, we also believe there needs to be energy put into preparing our kids for their future. What about the kindergartener starting this year who will graduate in 2028? What is the work we need to do to think about the world that student will face when they enter the world and job force in the future?
Q: What are some of the benefits of signing the Future Ready pledge?
A: The Future Ready dashboard was one of the big takeaways for us in going to the Future Ready summit. That was a great tool that walked us through and gave us a snapshot of where we currently are, so that we ended up knowing where our strengths were—these were things we previously only had a hunch about, but that helped us to know in a clearer manner.
Another benefit of signing and going to the summit was seeing what other districts were doing, and having conversations about their districts. Networking was huge. It’s always helpful to learn from people who are pursuing similar goals as yours.
Q: Can you tell us about the Future Ready-aligned initiatives you have in place in the district?
→ Teaching and Learning 2020 (TL2020), a district-wide initiative which builds on our successes at transforming teaching and learning through technology. (See ‘About the Salisbury Township School District’ above for more information, or read about the initiative on the district website).
→ As part of TL2020, we have fully implemented 1:1 for all grades K-12, and we’re in our fifth year of this implementation. We spent a lot of time preparing for this, with lots of planning and conversation.
→ Google classrooms. We use Google apps and products in all of our classroom.
→ We’ve redesigned our curriculum process. We’re using an updated curriculum template, and evaluating students based on concept competencies. Along the same lines, we’ve created alternative assessments for students.
→ We’ve been looking closely at ways of integrating technology with instruction, and ways of using that technology to develop personalized learning.
→ We’ve developed a culture of transparency and growth, where we share ideas and borrow ideas that work from other districts and education leaders. We make a point of looking at data, evaluating where our strengths are, where the challenges are, and using that data to continue improving.
Q: Can you tell us about your upcoming goals for the district?
The goals, and the solutions found, were Right now we have two main areas we'd like to focus on:
1. Personalized learning.
We want to focus more on personalized learning, and how we take into account individual student interest and paths to learning. If you look at the Future Ready resources, this would be under Gear 2—now that we have these devices, and students have open access to the internet, how do we tap into each student’s own personal interests, curiosity, and inquiry? What does that look like?
We’d like to create a system that is student-driven, so a student can finish a course in a semester if he or she is really interested, and won’t be held back by the limitations of the typical classroom. The question is, how do you demonstrate competencies and move on? We’re really looking at changing the model of how school works.
2. Community partnerships.
This is under Gear 5, if you’re looking at Future Ready resources. Within Salisbury there are pockets of us using technology to engage with others outside of the district, and we’d like to grow that contact. We have students that are collaborating and connecting with each other, and we want to grow that engagement both here in our immediate community, and outside the district in our larger communities as well.
The questions to ask here are, Who are the experts in the subject being studied? How do we engage with them, and help our students engage with them?
Another piece of this is looking at how our local community can be more engaged with our schools. We want to bring people from the ‘real world’ of our district into contact with our students, to create more dynamic learning opportunities.
Q: Can you share any best practices or advice based on your experience in the implementation of edtech?
- → Articulate your goals and how you will assess them. We’ve realized that, in some cases, goals and plans hadn’t been created for how to evaluate digital learning initiatives. We’ve actually done an entire podcast on this topic, which can be found here.
- → Know why you’re getting involved. One danger of Future Ready and other initiatives is that people sometimes like to jump on the bandwagon with new ideas, but it’s not always done in a thoughtful way. We’ve seen some people in education buying resources simply because they’re cheap or available, but there isn’t a lot of thought about why—Why do this? What is the desired outcome? And, how do you plan to get people on board? Also, how do you know if you reached your goal? If you don’t take time to create a vision and strategy, you won’t achieve real progress.
- → Use data to evaluate your efforts. Every year we’re gathering data to see if we’re on track. The district has the practice of regular data collection. Damian Bebell of Boston College has helped us understand that data can be anything. Data can exist in places that we didn’t necessarily think were valuable. We’ve used commercial tools, like the Clarity survey from BrightBytes, to collect and evaluate data, all toward the goals of developing a deeper understanding of what is working and what isn’t and, ultimately, continuous improvement.
Q: Do you have any funding advice you can share with other district leaders?
- → Technology needs to be a priority. No isn’t an answer. It has to be a question of where you find the money, not if you find the money.
- → Funding requires thought and creativity.
- You have to have people on your team who are willing to problem-solve. We’ve looked at our budget with a fine tooth comb for those areas where we’re budgeting too much and not spending it, and how that money can be shifted. For instance, paper and printing costs were quite high before we took a close look at them, and we were able to reduce them significantly. That was a chunk of money we were spending, which could now put into PD. If you look at the grand scheme of things regarding your budget, are there places where you can shuffle money around?
- → Leasing has helped us quite a bit. In rolling out our 1:1 program we were able to ask for the money in small chunks. In the first five years we purchased devices on a cycle. With the leasing model you can get all the technology you need but pay for it over a longer period of time. Another benefit, is that it’s a defined cost, which you know you’re going to have every year.
- → Funding requires thought and creativity.
- → But it’s also important to say that our story is very contextual. Superintendents and district leaders need to talk to other people to define their context, and find the things that will work best for them. I don’t think our model would necessarily work in a different district.