A little while ago we sat down with Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi to talk about why she signed the Future Ready pledge, her plans for her district, and where she sees education heading.
Below you will find more information about Castro Valley Unified and Superintendent Ahmadi—please scroll down to read the interview itself.
About the Castro Valley Unified School District
Location: Castro Valley, CA
The Castro Valley Unified School District is located in the unincorporated town of Castro Valley in Alameda County. Castro Valley is a suburban district situated south of the city of Oakland and about 30 minutes southeast of San Francisco. The district has 13 schools, with nine K-5 elementary schools, two 6-8 middle schools, one comprehensive high school (Castro Valley High), and one continuation high school (Redwood High). An active Castro Valley Adult and Career Education School also serves the community.
Castro Valley has a three year technology plan, which maps the intended direction for the use of technology in instruction beginning in July 1, 2014. This is the eighth technology plan that the district has created to guide the procurement and use of educational technology. View the plan here.
From the district’s website: “Our mission is to provide leadership and support for CVUSD staff and parents by coordinating the development, alignment, and implementation of standards, assessments, curriculum, instruction, professional learning, and support services to ensure each student meets or exceeds proficiency and is ready for college and career.”
About Superintendent Ahmadi
Superintendent Ahmadi is in her first year as superintendent of the Castro Valley Unified School District. She is proud to have started her career in education as a teacher. After teaching in San Jose for several years, she moved to Fremont where she served as a vice principal, principal, director, and assistant superintendent for thirteen years before becoming the Superintendent in Pleasanton for five years prior to coming to Castro Valley. Superintendent Ahmadi holds a Bachelor's degree from San Jose State, a Masters in Teaching from National Louis University in Chicago, a Certificate for School Management from UCLA, and a Masters in Educational Leadership from St. Mary's College of California.
Superintendent Ahmadi publishes a regular enewsletter that addresses matters related to education in California, recommends resources, and shares news about the Castro Valley district. Subscribe here to stay up to date with CA education news.
The Interview Starts Here!
Q: Can you tell us about your history regarding edtech and the use of technology in the classroom?
A: This is my first year as the superintendent of Castro Valley. Before coming here I served as the superintendent for the Pleasanton Unified School District for five years. In my first year as the superintendent in Pleasanton I noticed technology being used in some classrooms in what I would call a sporadic manner.
But there was one teacher in particular whose use of technology was very notable. I kept returning to her classroom to see her phenomenal work. I discovered that Lisa Highfill had been doing trainings all over the State. Her impact was already very noticeable at the elementary school she worked at.
I asked Lisa if she would be interested in becoming a mentor. She said she would consider it. I jokingly told Lisa, “I would love to see you make a whole bunch of Lisas. I’d like you to start sharing what you’re doing with technology.” The understanding was always that the trainings Lisa did weren’t mandatory; they were strictly on a volunteer basis. They caught on like wildfire, and out of that model grew the practice of using instructional coaches in the classroom for technology in addition to other core subjects such as literacy and mathematics.
After the first year of Lisa’s work, we had people who had previously been reluctant to use technology in the classroom saying, “It’s not fair, I don’t have enough time with Lisa, or enough time with the math coach!” She has had an incredible impact on teachers in Pleasanton. I think she should be given a medal—she really created a huge cultural shift.
Our foundation in Pleasanton heard about the power and value of instructional coaching, and they graciously agreed to allocate funds for another instructional coach in technology. We were then able to hire Scott Padway as another coach for technology so that there were two coaches in place in Pleasanton.
Q: What did the coaching model look like in Pleasanton?
A: Teachers worked hand-in-hand with coaches, and technology was always embedded in content work. For example, the math and literacy coach would work closely with the technology coach.
Besides going to individual classrooms to work with teachers who request support, Lisa and other coaches are involved in job imbedded professional learning. During these training sessions, classroom teachers would meet with coaches and prepare for what they would be observing.
They would then all join instructional coaches and observe them model lessons and interact with students. It was great see lessons with technology imbedded, with hyperlink, videos, student work samples and so forth. It was a fantastic metamorphosis, and it happened through collaboration and working toward the common goal of improving our practice in order to provide students with even better support.
Q: Can you fill us in on the edtech-related initiatives you have in place in Castro Valley right now?
A: We have a really wonderful tech director who has worked hard to ensure we have a solid wireless network and has moved the district in the right direction.
Regarding initiatives, one of the great programs we already have in place here in Castro Valley is that there are stipends given to one teacher from every elementary, middle, and high school to be instructional technology mentors. These teachers have had lots of training and support others at their schools by presenting at staff meetings. We recently added more to the number of technology mentors at middle and high school. In addition, our governing board just approved funding for an instructional technology coach position in Castro Valley, which we are in the process of hiring. The goal is for this instructional coach to work with mentors and for schools to provide their tech mentors release time to visit classrooms, model lessons, and coach their colleagues at each school.
This is something we are still fleshing out, and I look forward to working with the other members of the team here to collaborate so we can improve. The end goal is always to help students to be engaged and fulfill their dreams.
Q: Can you recommend any best practices or give any advice on how to implement the use of technology in the classroom?
A: I believe the emphasis should be on how we use technology for learning and teaching . Giving every student a device without focus on how technology is used and imbedded in lessons is not productive.
→ I think it is essential to train principals as well as teachers. If principals and other administrators aren’t trained and able to understand what their teachers are doing, they can’t support them, and that keeps positive change from occurring.
→ Instructional coaching is crucial. Find the best people for the job, then let them do it without micromanaging. Coaching is essential not just for instructional technology, but also for other subjects.
→ I also think it’s important that extra training offered not be mandatory. In my experience, when something is pushed top-down without a real buy-in, it rarely works. Instead, make the resources available and demonstrate the value. I remember being told by a teacher, “I’ve been doing this 25 years, I don’t need a coach,” but after he saw what the coaching looked like he decided to participate. It’s not about judgment, but about continuous improvement.
Q: Can you share any advice related to funding for edtech?
If you truly want to do the best for kids, you find a way to set aside money for technology. It’s about need based budgeting. If it is a part of your strategic plan and your goals, then you set aside money for it as you do for anything else.
I would also recommend looking at supplemental funds. These funds can help close the gap, so you can make sure your underserved children have what they need, not just at school but at home. Title II funds can also be used for professional development and coaching.
Q: For superintendents out there who are considering signing the Future Ready pledge, what are some compelling reasons to sign?
Being a part of Future Ready and attending the Summit allowed me the opportunity to connect with folks and find out about the many opportunities in education technology and professional development opportunities.
As a result, I along with a principal from Castro Valley will be attending the CUE Rock Star Camp for Administrators on November 19th-21st. Our goal is to come back and inspire and support other administrators to further advance their use of technology to support students, staff and families. We have a lot of administrators are excited about and use technology in many ways but there is always more to learn.