Desert Sands Unified School District (CA), is a leader in educational technology, digital equity, and innovation. I had the great opportunity to sit down (virtually) with Kelly May Vollmar Ed.D., the Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services and CoSN Board Member to chat about her school district’s experience in the pandemic and what the school district is working on in EdTech for the next school year.
Q: What are the biggest lessons you learned from transitioning your district to online learning?
A: The biggest lesson we learned was how to deliver instruction online. We had to learn and execute this in one year, which would have otherwise taken about 5 years to achieve. It surprised me how much training was needed for educators, parents, and students in technology to successfully deliver online instruction. Additionally, we learned to be more flexible. Teachers had to work around students’ personal situations and circumstances and home unlike anytime before.
Q: What would you consider your district’s greatest success in Educational Technology in 2020?
A: I would have to say I am most proud of our teacher training program. We started developing it right at the beginning of the pandemic. We now have 3 types for our educators: required training, at your own pace, and additional optional training for educators who want to further develop their knowledge. We also did professional development for parents at home to help them with technology for their students and converted our help desk which was traditionally for staff only to include parents and students. It was a huge success.
Q: Your district transitioned relatively smoothly to online learning compared to others, what eased your transition compared to other districts?
A: Desert Sands was ahead of many other schools when the pandemic hit because we were already 1:1) and had our own LTE network. Since those two key challenges were already out of the way, professional development and ramp-up was the key obstacle.
Q: What are some of the permanent changes to learning that would only have happened because of the pandemic?
A: I think personalized professional development is here to stay, we certainly want to keep doing it whenever possible in our district. Right now, as we shift back to in-person, we are trying to keep the pressure on staff to continue to use technology in the classroom. The opportunities for lesson design with technology are endless and we want to ensure teachers are still incorporating it even when they don’t have to.
Q: What is the greatest challenge for your district moving forward regarding educational technology?
A: The greatest challenge for us is that we need more professional development for our EdTech staff and are looking to hire new positions to support our help desk and other initiatives. I am most afraid of stifling innovation, particularly in this sector, which is why I always encourage my staff to attend conferences and other networking events so they can learn from others and build their professional contacts.
Q: What direction do you see learning moving toward in the future? What opportunities do you see for your district that would have been unimaginable pre-pandemic?
A: The future of EdTech for my school and many others is the addition of a full-time virtual learning academy. Even before the pandemic, some kids were leaving the district to do online schooling. Instead of losing those kids to other schools, we want these students to continue to attend our district. It is a way that our school is staying competitive and changing with the needs and demands of our students.
Q: What are you most excited about this coming school year?
A: Even with all the talk technology — I am most excited to have all our students back in person. Just for our students to have a real sense of normalcy again.