Comment, ask questions, and discuss the Transformational Technology proposal here

Chris Richardson, Griff Wigley, Matt Hillmann  technology transformation proposal jan 21 2013 online engagement
For the next week or more, I’ll be the moderator of a discussion attached to this blog post about the Transformational Technology proposal that’s being considered by the Northfield School Board.

Superintendent Chris Richardson and Director of Human Resources and Technology Matt Hillmann will be the primary panelists. They’ll be regularly checking the comment thread below to read and respond as they see fit.

A blog discussion thread has some advantages over other tools for engagement. For me, it allows the discussion to happen among the audience members, not just between the audience and the panelists.  So if you see a comment by someone other than Chris or Matt that you’d like to respond to, you can do so.  Likewise, Matt and Chris can respond to comments that aren’t directed at them.

I’ll start things off by asking Chris and Matt to each make an opening comment. Once they’ve done so, I’ll consider asking them a question or two, and then shortly thereafter, I’ll open things up to everyone.

I’ll add a comment shortly with some miscellaneous participation tips.

22 thoughts on “Comment, ask questions, and discuss the Transformational Technology proposal here

  1. Griff Wigley Post author

    Some techie tips!

    Comments here are in reverse chronological order, oldest comments at the top.

    You can do a little formatting here, just like in email. Make a word bold or italicize a phrase.

    You can just paste links in their raw form like this: and they’ll automatically become clickable. Or you can make a link of a word or phrase like this.

    And you can use the Blockquote button to put words, sentences and paragraphs in quotes if they’re not written by you:

    A proposal has been formed based on input from key stakeholders, including task forces, a faculty survey, discussion with our District Technology Steering Committee, and discussion with the Superintendent’s Cabinet. This proposal requests the Board of Education consider authorizing the lease of 2,700 student devices for a three-year period beginning with the 2013-14 school year.

  2. Griff Wigley Post author

    Be sure to ready my Participation Guidelines. They include:

    * Avoid sarcasm

    * Avoid addressing a person indirectly when disagreeing with them. In other words, use their first name and talk to them as if you were conversing face-to-face, eg, “John, I think you’re wrong because…”

    There are other ways that ‘tone of voice’ can inhibit good conversation, of course. Intimidation, subtle put-downs, innuendo, joking-on-the-square, etc. can all be deployed in sophisticated ways, deliberately or not. Avoid them.

    I’ll intervene publicly if you forget but I probably won’t make you stand in the corner or miss recess for your first offense. 😉

  3. Chris Richardson

    I believe we have provided an exciting transformational technology proposal which has the real potential to change how teachers teach and how students learn. I think that a great deal of work and collaboration have gone into bringing the proposal forward for the Board’s consideration. I am looking forward to hearing from our community about this proposal and the vision that we are sharing about enhanced learning.

  4. Matt Hillmann

    We have had high quality public participation in the five face-to-face meetings we have had on this topic over the last year and I am hopeful this online environment will reach additional individuals who haven’t been able to participate in those meetings.

    I hope that folks will consider attending our next two public meetings, focused on sharing the Transformational Technology proposal. Those meetings are tomorrow, February 2nd, from 10 am -- 12 pm in the Northfield High School auditorium and on Monday, February 4th, from 7 pm -- 9 pm in the same location.

    As always, feel free to contact me directly if you have questions, concerns, and compliments about the proposal — or 507.645.3458.

  5. Griff Wigley Post author

    Hey Chris, welcome aboard. I’m glad you’re willing to do this, as it shows the world that geezers like you and me can adapt!

    When I first heard the estimated cost of the proposed project (up to $550,000 per year for 3 years), my initial reaction was to wonder if this was a good time to take something of this size on, given that our economy (local, state, national) is still somewhat precarious and may be that way for a while.

    Can you say a little bit about the financial health of the School District and why you think this is a good time to do this?

  6. Griff Wigley Post author

    Welcome, Matt, and thanks for extending your workday to late Friday. Don’t forget to show up tomorrow at the High School. 😉 Since I won’t be able to be there for the Sat. morning session, I’ve asked my wife Robbie to take photos for me. She’s on the verge of either getting sick or getting better so bring a camera just in case.

    I’m curious about how this project first came into being over a year ago. Had you heard about another district doing it? Did it come to you in a dream? Can you blame Chris for it? Just give us a little pre-history on how it initially evolved.

  7. Matt Hillmann

    Griff —

    I have been interested in how we can use technology to increase student engagement and individualize instruction for many years. However, it wasn’t until the advent of tablets that I thought we could realistically consider one device per student.

    I had a chance to hear from several schools at the TIES Conference in 2011 focusing on customizing learning for students. Many of the districts making significant progress toward personalization were integrating tablets into their classrooms. When I returned to Northfield, we assembled 35 educators in January/February 2012 from across the district to investigate if this could have an impact here. This group recommended an aggressive strategy. In fact, several people on the committee hoped we could have started this school year with tablets in students’ hands. Obviously, that was a bit too fast! We’ve had a lot of discussion about this over the last year and it has been a great learning experience. There are a lot of thoughtful people in this community!

    On the technical side, the significance of a battery that could last the entire school day without recharging was a significant hurdle that tablets overcame. Simple, yet critical in a school setting. Tablets also have nearly no moving parts and are reliable compared to laptops. Schools do not have the same level of access to technical support as other industries. The cost of a tablet is less than most decently equipped laptops.

    Finally, our staff in Northfield is top notch and it was apparent to me that they are capable of taking advantage of this educational tool. Technology by itself is useless in education. It is only when used by competent teachers who know their students that it can be a game changer.

    I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s meeting and discussing this idea with more community members. I’ll be ready to take photos with my smart phone, if necessary. I’ll apologize in advance, Griff, since I know how much you love photos taken with smart phones. 😉


  8. Chris Richardson

    Working with our staff and community, Northfield Public Schools has made measured reductions and increased efficiency in our budget over the last nine years. At the same time, our community has put their faith in us by twice passing both operating and capital project referendums. This combination of reductions, efficiencies and additional levy funding has resulted in a balanced budget and a strong fund balance that has allowed us to maintain staff and programs while many districts across the State are cutting theirs. We have also built a very conservative budget for the next three years which includes the total cost of the technology transformation initiative.

    Given our strong financial position, the time is right to provide new teaching and learning opportunities through technology for our teachers and students.

  9. Griff Wigley Post author

    So you’re saying we all deserve credit for the strong financial position of the District -- citizens, School Board, and those darn top administrators? If so, let’s all take the rest of the week off, except for Matt. 😉

    If anyone has a comment or follow-up question for Chris related to the District’s financial situation, feel to chime in now/here.

  10. Griff Wigley Post author

    Good to know that TIES is still around and having influence, Matt. I attended many of their conferences and MECC conferences back in the 80s.

    Can you say a little bit about how the recommendation to distribute one iPad per student in grades 6-12 RIGHT FROM THE START came about? I expected to hear that there would be a gradual rollout, eg, iPads for all 11th and 12th graders for the first year, then if all was going well, expand it to 10th grade the following year, etc. I don’t have an argument to support that approach, just wondering what the rationale is in the current proposal.

  11. Olaf Hall-Holt

    I’m glad to see this proposal, since I think it is realistic to assume that devices like these will become standard in many walks of life, including education. I hope that the part about avoiding vendor lock-in is considered carefully. Many colleges and universities have found that using an open source platform like Moodle is a good long-term investment, even though proprietary vendors may appear to provide a quicker start.


  12. Carly Born

    I’m wondering what kind of training and development opportunities the teachers and staff will have with these devices? I know that they’ve had them for a while, now, so that’s great. But you are always going to have new teachers coming into the school system and the landscape of what can be done with tablets changes quickly. How are the teachers going to be able to keep up? I know that Matt works for the district, but are there other instructionally focused technology staff to assist them? Or are they on their own?

  13. Kathie Galotti

    I am cautiously supportive of the elementary “pod” plan. I think this introduces technology, provides enough resources for teachers to explore its usage, without busting the bank. There will be enough ipads in each grade level for, say, Mrs. Smith in 4th grade to design something really nifty and borrow the other 4th grade teachers’ ipads for a day or so….and then reciprocate when her colleague, Mr. Jones has a brilliant idea. As they develop more curriculum that needs more ipad availability, the district can incrementally add more . Not all teachers will embrace the usage of ipads equally, and this way, resources are reserved for those who are.

    I am **much less happy***, i.e., opposed to the 6th-12th grade plan. This just blankets everyone with ipads with no requirement or expectation that they’ll be put to good curricular use. And, it will cost a small fortune. This two years after we were considering cutting orchestra, band, GATES, classroom teachers, etc.

    I would much prefer to see some scaling back here. And some requirement that teachers demonstrate ahead of time a plan to deploy ipads for curricular use. Hopefully one that is reviewed on a competitive basis.

    Rob Hardy has a very thoughtful blog post on his blog which I will attempt to link to. I would strongly prefer/endorse something along the lines he proposes.

  14. Kathie Galotti

    I’d also like to comment about the budget. It’s true that Dr. Richardson and his staff are to be commended for keeping us in the black while our state legislatures played harmful budget games. That said, there are other important things we could spend education dollars on that are much more important, to me, anyway, than ipads that **might** be transformative (and might not. And it’s not clear we’ll be able to tell).

    For example, here are a few ideas:

    1) Fully fund all day kindergarten for every family at no cost. There’s a plethora of excellent empirical evidence for the educational benefits of all day kindergarten. It stinks, in my opinion, that only those families who can afford it get this resource for their kids. Some of the kids who most need to attend all day come from families who can’t swing it. We could take some of the money saved from scaling back the ipad giveaway to fund this.

    2) Build a better contingency fund to address class size issues. Elementary classrooms shouldn’t be 30 (or, even worse, ABOVE 30). High school classes shouldn’t be above 40. And yet, some are. And the kids in those classes get poorly served. Why not take some of the money saved from scaling back the ipad giveaway to hire teachers to keep class sizes more pedagogically reasonable?

    3) RtI coaches seem to be doing good things at the elementary schools (although this is anecdotal). In particular, they seem to be actually making PLC time a resource that is used as its intended to be. I’d like to see this model put in place at the Middle and High school (note to Matt Hillman: you need to hire folks with tough skins if they’re gonna survive in either building) and for God’s sake, get the PLCs to 1) be comprised of more than one person and 2) teach them what a SMART goal is and 3) get them to use data to CHANGE their ineffective teaching. Why not take some of the money saved from scaling back the ipad giveaway to fund this?

    This list isn’t exhaustive, but illustrates that I don’t think our district is “delivering educational excellence”--at least not everywhere--and before we lock into millions of dollars locked up in a plan that may or may not be transformative--let’s do more to make what we have work.

  15. Matt Hillmann


    Excellent question. Professional development is critical. We have had over 50 technology focused professional development sessions for our staff since last August. We host an annual “Tech Boot Camp” where staff can choose from 20 sessions and have followed that up with a goal of weekly sessions at each building. While I know we haven’t been able to offer sessions at each building every week, we have done so on what I would characterize as a regular basis. These sessions are now almost exclusively led by staff members sharing their skills with colleagues.

    Coming this summer, we plan to change the Tech Boot Camp model so that staff have an opportunity to engage in training once per week rather than only during one specific week. We can offer the same session multiple times during the summer with teachers able to attend the same session more than once if needed. This will keep the training from seeming overwhelming to folks and they can have time to practice skills they’ve learned before attending a different or more advanced session.

    Just last Monday, our staff were able to take advantage of three and half hours of professional development time devoted to technology during their workshop day. This was the second year in a row that we have had a half-day of technology training during one of our January workshops. Our high school also hosted technology training at their workshop at the end of November.

    We host the tech boot camp every summer, so new staff can attend as well. In addition, we have had some limited technology training time during our back-to-school new staff workshop and plan to use that as well. The District also is a member of TIES, so staff can attend workshops at their site and also use Atomic Learning, an online professional development suite focused on education.

    While we do not have a specific technology integrationist position in the District at this time, we are trying to cultivate and grow multiple experts across the District who will serve as resources for and inspire their colleagues. Our media specialists have been outstanding in this effort -- they are trained to help teachers integrate technology. Their time is limited because of their instructional responsibilities -- especially at the elementary levels. Even so, they have been outstanding leaders and will be important in any future technology strategies we employ.

    Our goal is to provide support and training in a manner that staff feel it meets their needs, is enjoyable and engaging, and convenient for them to attend.


  16. Andreas Thurnheer

    fully agree with Kathies comments. There in not much material publishes for the teachers to use the Ipads effectivly.

    Andreas Thurnheer

  17. Griff Wigley Post author

    Kathie and Andreas, welcome to the discussion. Thanks for chiming in.

    Kathie, when I first read your comment about the budget, I assumed you just wanted to make a statement, like a letter to the editor. But since you posted it here in the ‘blog discussion thread,’ that probably was a wrong assumption on my part.

    Just a tip on the protocol for you and others: it’s best to direct your comments to a person by first name if you’d like them to consider replying, eg, “Chris, why not put money towards X instead of technology?”

    No need to do that now, however. I’ll ask Chris to repsond to you.

  18. Chris Richardson

    Just to clarify a couple of issues. While the first year of the lease payments will use a portion of the district’s general fund balance, we will transition to using only dollars from the capital budget by the end of the first 3 year lease. Capital dollars are used for repairs, textbooks and equipment and cannot be used to pay for ongoing salaries and benefits for kindergarten teachers. There will not be any ongoing general fund dollars available if the iPad initiative is not implemented. We are currently watching the Governor’s proposal which will provide targeted general fund dollars for all day kindergarten. However, some of the requirements in the proposal may make things more difficult since it may require us to provide all day kindergarten to all students in the building. This will create space issues for us and many other districts across the State.

    The same goes for using the technology savings to buy other teaching staff. Since the ongoing technology funding comes from the capital budget, it can not be used to hire ongoing teaching positions. Any modifications to the amount in the contingency fund would have to come from the general fund and would need to be ongoing not a one time reduction of fund balance from the general fund.

  19. Kathie Galotti


    Thanks for the clarification about the different budget funding mechanisms. Clearly, I was uneducated about the fungibility of the funds.

    I am still leery of spending this much money for something that may or may not reduce long-term costs, may or may not effectively increase student achievement, may or may not be put to good use
    by a large majority of teachers. I understand that some teachers are already tech-savvy and chomping at the bit--I would support their being resourced with ipads. That still doesn’t justify to me
    a million dollars or more over three years to give them to everyone. Even if the dollars can’t be used for kindergarten teachers or contingency, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t assess whether
    the likely gains are worth it.

  20. Matt Hillmann


    You asked me a question about a pilot-based approach at last night’s community meeting and I realized that I’d not replied to your question here in the blog discussion thread. The short answer is that I don’t believe the iPad itself lends itself well to a pilot project based on our vision. I believe a pilot project entails mimicry of what you plan to do with a full roll-out.

    At our secondary levels, many students have classes with kids from other grade levels. If we were to select a couple of grade levels for a pilot, we are likely to have classes where some students have an iPad and some don’t have it. We think that makes for uneven implementation and doesn’t mimic they manner we’d actually plan to implement them. The iPad itself is designed as a personal device and isn’t a “computer lab” device. Classroom sets would have to stay at school and, again, not be a test of that changes we aspire to see in how teachers teach and students learn.

    I’m not saying we couldn’t make a pilot work, I just don’t believe it would give us the data to predict success of a larger initiative.



  21. Griff Wigley Post author

    Thanks, Matt.

    Comments are now closed so that a transcript of this discussion can be submitted to the School Board for tomorrow night’s meeting.

Comments are closed.