Why Working Class Revere, Massachusetts Cares About Digital Equity

In this next series of posts from my work study, I will describe communities where school systems are partnering with city governments, business communities, and nonprofit organizations to "go big" in addressing digital equity. As we previously noted, digital equity is a community challenge, not solely one that can be solved by a school district.

This past week I had the pleasure of meeting with Daniel Rizzo, Mayor of Revere, Massachusetts, and Paul Dakin, the retiring Superintendent of Revere Public Schools. As noted in previous blogs, building a community conversation and partnership is key to the success of addressing digital equity. Such a partnership clearly exists in Revere between the city and school system leaders.

Located about 5 miles from downtown Boston, the city of 52,000 is named after the Revolutionary war hero Paul Revere. Nearly 27% of the city’s residents were born outside of the U.S., and approximately 12% of families and 15% of the population live below the poverty line. The school district has an 80% free and reduced lunch student population.

From the Revere Public School Vision Statement, you immediately see the value the school system places on community and preparing their students for success:

The mission of the Revere Public Schools is to develop literate, responsible citizens who will continue to pursue and to value learning. By establishing a learning partnership among school, home, and community that provides a safe learning environment based on high learning expectations for all, the Revere Public Schools will achieve its goal of preparing students for future success as active and positive contributors in our democratic society and global economy.

Mayor Rizzo has been the mayor since 2012 and former Superintendent Dakin spent 19 years in his position. Prior to that, he headed up STEM and technology initiatives in the district, so he is passionate about the role of technology in learning.

Mayor Rizzo and Superintendent Dakin described why Digital Equity is critical in Revere:

Digital equity outside of school is specifically highlighted in the District’s 2013-2016 Technology Plan. Their high school is already a one-to-one device per student environment, and this is being extended to the middle and elementary schools. Students take home iPads and Chromebooks, so access outside of school is key.

Strategies identified to address digital equity include allowing access to its computer labs before/after school and working with the Public Library to provide community access and literacy programs. Another key strategy has been to upgrade Wi-Fi at school campuses and other public buildings that have high incidence of student use in order to strengthen Internet access. They also disseminate to students a list of places where students and staff can gain free access to the Internet after school hours.

The school district was also very aggressive in making Comcast’s Internet Essentials available to school lunch eligible households. The community used some of the cable fees it received due to its license to Comcast to subsidize the monthly cost of $9.95 for Internet Essentials for qualifying families.

Dakin talked about this effort, which also reminded Rizzo of Revere’s Get Your Business Online, which used students to help local businesses get online:

Dakin believes that more than 90% of Revere students now have home internet access, though this includes use of mobile phones. Digital equity is thought of as part of the overall education context. For example, Massachusetts is part of the national Common Core curriculum as part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium, and therefore new high-stakes tests are being deployed online. There was considerable worry that low income students might not perform as well on the test if they were less familiar with taking technology-based assessments versus traditional pencil and paper. Revere Public Schools agreed to be a testbed for PARCC to investigate this concern and make sure the tests could be delivered in a reliable manner. According to Dakin, the beta for the online test went off without a hitch, and so far there is no evidence that students were uncomfortable or hindered by taking the assessments online. Revere is also part of an exciting testbed for the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s investment in new learning opportunities around personalization. The district is working to leverage a $3.5 million grant over three and a half years.

Likewise, Mayor Rizzo sees that all cities must invest in technology moving forward if they wish to have robust economic development. Under his leadership, the city and district have also collaborated to make sure that students provide literacy to the Revere adult populations for whom English is a second language.

So going forward, what advice do Rizzo and Dakin have for other mayors and superintendents?