Tom Fogu — Bayonne Board of Education

Seamlessly integrating technology into the classroom in northern New Jersey

Technology has transformed the classroom in innumerable ways in recent years. Attendance, assessments and even classroom learning increasingly take place in the digital sphere, making technology professionals a vital part of any educational organization. In New Jersey, Director Tom Fogu, Assistant Director Dr. Karee McAndrew and Assistant Supervisor Melissa Sisk are working tirelessly to ensure that technology is seamlessly integrated into the classroom through their roles as administrators for the Bayonne School District’s Technology Department.

Bayonne School District’s Technology Department oversees the technology needs of the district’s almost 10,000 students ranging from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.

Tom Fogu — Bayonne Board of Education

Fogu, with years of experience as both a classroom teacher and administrator, and his team, are responsible for managing more than 16,000 devices across 12 schools.

“Three years ago I came over from the principal side, so I am aware how the whole dynamic works,” says Fogu. “That role gave me a background in dealing with people, different situations and technology. It made it a smooth transition.”

It was in that principal role that Fogu gained his first real experience dealing with the intersection of technology and education. “I was a building administrator when the district rolled out 8,000 Chromebooks. It was new for everyone, and we had the opportunity to have a hands-on approach. When the tech department came into my building to roll out the devices for the PARCC pilot, I was able to see that department’s processes and really learn and assist in the management of the new technology in my school. That same year I also became a member of the district technology team,” he says.

Fogu is joined in the IT department by McAndrew, Sisk, five tech staff members and three office staff. McAndrew joined the department in 2007, first as a technology education teacher, then as district technology facilitator before being appointed assistant director of the department. Sisk worked previously as a technology education teacher for 13 years before being hired as the district student information systems facilitator, and then being appointed as assistant supervisor of special programs and technology.

Teacher evaluations

As a dynamic department with a mission vital to the success of students, faculty and staff, there is no typical day for the IT team at Bayonne School District. “Depending on what day it is we might be dealing with rollouts of new technology, performing maintenance on the network, training, staff evaluations or supporting online assessments,” Fogu says.

Four years ago the district decided to move all teacher evaluations online to an internet-based platform as part of New Jersey’s Race to the Top grant. Central office administration, principals and administrators have all worked very closely with the Technology Department to continue to build and refine the evaluation process.

“Every year our evaluation team comes up with better solutions and ideas to help staff and administration feel comfortable with the Achieve NJ evaluation process,” says McAndrew. “One of our responsibilities is making sure that every one of the 800 teachers in our district gets assigned an administrator to get evaluated by. Our evaluation system is embedded in our SIS, where we assign each administrator to a staff member individually. With over 40 administrators, each administrator is assigned 40 to 60 evaluations. As you can imagine, this is a timely process for our department.”

A vital role in assessment

Another responsibility of the technology department is helping to support online assessments. For the 2015-2016 school year, the Bayonne School District students submitted more than 32,000 online assignments by participating in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) program.

New Jersey has chosen to participate in the program which is designed to assess college and career readiness. The three to five day assessment covers language arts and math curriculum in grades three through eleven. Sisk is responsible for the inputting and management of student and staff data for the district. Sisk took a lead role in PARCC testing session setup, student rosters and training for building principals.

“While assessment and data collection is a challenging task with a district of our size, building administrators, guidance counselors and teachers worked collaboratively to ensure testing data accuracy,” Sisk says.

Conducting this crucial testing online presents numerous technology challenges for the IT professionals, but the process has improved year after year. When the PARCC was first administered, students took the test in small classrooms, making it very difficult to manage technical programs as their team of four at the time had to run between 45 plus different classrooms to help troubleshoot technology issues for more than 2,000 high school students.

“We realized that this process can be executed more effectively, so Dr. Patricia McGeehan, superintendent of schools, devised the concept of creating larger testing sites in all of the school’s cafeterias, multipurpose rooms and gyms,” Sisk says. “Two hundred plus students can take the test in one location at any time.”

“This has drastically improved our department’s ability to problem solve quickly, address technical issues faster and troubleshoot devices immediately to provide students a quality testing environment,” Dr. McGeehan adds.

Pursuing a cloud-based future

Bayonne is in the midst of a 1:1 device ratio project that outfits each of the district’s K-12 students with their own Chromebook in what will be one of the largest 1:1 Chromebook rollouts in the state. “It was a concerted effort by Superintendent McGeehan,” Fogu says. “The technology explosion in our district was the dream of Dr. McGeehan. The superintendent understands the importance of technology as well as the urgency to bring digital learning to every classroom.”

To prepare the district for the future and provide student digital literacy skills, School Business Administrator Leo Smith, along with the support of the Bayonne Board of Education, adopted a 1:1 device program. The technology initiative started as a dream and was included in the district’s strategic plan. Chromebooks were first distributed to grades three through eight in 2014 and major content areas at the high school. This year, the 1:1 initiative expanded to students in first grade and kindergarten.

Pre-kindergarten classrooms were already outfitted with iPads and a SmartTables for learning centers and small group instruction.

“The creativity of Mr. Smith has really played the major role in the implementation of everything we do,” says Fogu.

One reason the district selected Chromebooks was because of their cloud-based applications. In conjunction with selecting Chromebooks, the district moved their domain over to Google Apps for Education (GAFE). “GAFE provides a multitude of learning and communication tools for both students and staff such as Google Drive. Drive allows users to create, collaborate and share various projects using word processing, spreadsheets, slideshows and forms instantly,” says Sisk.

“Students can be working in a group in their social studies class on a project in Google slides, but when class is over, instead of only one student having access to the file, they all have access at home and in real time because it’s all in the cloud,” says McAndrew. “The cloud-based technology was a huge reason why the district decided to go with Chromebooks. To really provide an environment for these students to prepare them for college and career readiness they need to be online, doing research and working collaboratively.”

When the Chromebooks were originally introduced into the classroom, the IT team trained students and teachers on education apps such as Google Apps for Education and Google Classroom. Now, just a few years later, the intricacies of these programs are old hat for many users. Sisk agrees: “Most of our staff has fully embraced Google Apps and are actively teaching daily with these tools. More novice teachers are actively learning the 21st century teaching techniques and becoming more comfortable with using this method of teaching.”

A focus on safety and security

While technology has the potential to transform not only the classroom, but learning in general, it can bring a number of challenges along with it. These challenges were evident in the district’s decision to have all students in grade three through 12 be able to take their devices home. “Letting the children take home their Chromebooks was a must, but we have to ensure that the children were protected from inappropriate sites and content at home like they are at school,” says Fogu. The IT team made a concerted effort to address some of the safety, security and privacy challenges that can arise.

The district uses two third-party security solutions, Go Guardian and Gaggle, to filter web results and block inappropriate content. Both tools work not only during school hours, but at home as well. “Through Go Guardian users are remotely monitored so we can get notified via email if a student searches for something inappropriate,” says Fogu.

The district has also allowed high school students to use a district Google email account which prevents students from sending or receiving messages outside of their school-based network. The IT staff uses a product called Gaggle at the high school level to monitor all student-to-student emails, giving the district the ability to intervene in cases of bullying, abuse, illegal content and self-harm and actually stop such messages from reaching their intended recipient. “If it’s a serious issue, we get a direct phone call from Gaggle 24/7. Gaggle also monitors users’ Google Drive academic dishonestly, cyberbullying and inappropriate content,” says Fogu.

It can be a seemingly Sisyphean task to prevent students from searching out inappropriate content online, but Fogu says it is such a major part of student safety online.

Preparing for future growth

Looking ahead, the IT team is pursuing several new projects and inanities. While the District’s elementary schools each have a resident technology professional in-house, the same is not true of its high schools, leading Fogu to roll out a new help desk to meet the need.

“It’s called the Chrome Depot and it’s managed by one of the technology staff members who also works on Chromebook repairs,” says McAndrew. “The Depot,” as the students have phrased it, is a store-like space where staff and students can go throughout the school day for tech support, help and device maintenance. “Over the next two years we would like to create a course around it where students who are interested in computer science can work with the teacher assigned to that space,” he says.

During the winter break of 2016, Fogu and his team organized and managed an install of smartboards in every classroom, grades five through 12. It was a considerable expense for one of the most underfunded districts in the state. As part of the smartboard rollout, the online professional development was added for all staff. The online training has course offerings in Google Apps for Education, Notebook software and many other platforms.

The Bayonne School District has grown leaps and bounds with technology over the years. This has been accomplished with the support of Superintendent Patricia McGeehan and School Business Administrator Leo Smith, the board of education and the entire school community, says Fogu, who adds he is fortunate to be part of the efforts.

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