Edtech: Do you think Prince George County was very focused on educational technology before the pandemic?
Zuckerman: We were early adopters of the Google app in our school district. We also have a very robust technology infrastructure and a very robust technology training team. As for networking, I think we are well positioned from an infrastructure perspective. But we weren’t one-on-one districts.
Edtech: Prince George County is one of the nation’s largest school districts. How did you go about getting devices to so many students?
Zuckerman: It was a model of urgency, as it is for everyone. Early in the pandemic, I searched everywhere to find devices for students who didn’t have one. We were constantly moving our devices. We have worked with parents to make personal devices available. Around Thanksgiving 2020, we started receiving a huge number of previously ordered devices and were able to quickly push them to our school teams.
Now we are a true 1:1 school district and every student gets a device. We see student devices as extensions of the school building. Students take their devices home and we send them home with them over the summer.
learn more: How can K–12 schools overcome the common hurdles of 1:1 devices?
We provide funding through the Elementary and Middle School Emergency Relief Fund. Strategically ordered to maximize device life expectancy.
Edtech: What is your vision for how digital equity will play out at PGCPS in the long term?
Zuckerman: It’s very straightforward. I definitely don’t need a student without access to a quality computer and internet.
Our CEO, Dr. Monica Goldson, is firmly committed to digital equity. Student devices have become an integral part of education. Everything we do is organized to ensure student devices are in place.
Edtech: What does educational technology look like in today’s school district?
Zuckerman: In addition to all these student devices, we added SMART interactive displays to the classroom. We have a large-scale implementation of the Canvas learning management system. We want to invest aggressively in key solutions and then strip away the ones we don’t really need.
Edtech: What impact has all this technology had on teacher professional development?
Zuckerman: Our focus is no longer on going from school to school. We are currently trying to reach 10,000 teachers at scale.
Each school has a teacher leader who receives a scholarship to serve as a technology leader within the building. Our training team spends time with these staff members as they double the strength of our school.
Related: See how one California district decentralized IT support.
Edtech: How does online training enhance the work of technical leaders?
Zuckerman: Thus, the whole world has changed, and our staff has changed with it. Using technology to train staff doubles your power. For example, cybersecurity has become a major focus for us and we have been able to commission our partner, Vector Solutions, to do his cybersecurity training online.
And now, we’ve scaled very quickly and our staff has access to online training. This is a big deal for us. We did it for special education, we did it for mental health, we did it for the safety of our students.
Edtech: What impact do you think hybrid learning initiatives will have on school districts going forward?
Zuckerman: The 2021-2022 school year began with approximately 10,000 students in grades K-6 still learning virtually. We did it all through the second semester. Currently, 500 students are studying on our online campus. If distance learning needs to happen again across the school district, we have the knowledge base, the collective skills and the collective will to do it at scale.
We also see some exciting examples of true hybrid education in the future. A teacher may instruct a group of students from one school at the same time as students from another school under the supervision of an auxiliary professional or substitute teacher.
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We are also investing in classroom audio and video enhancements and continue to expand how we leverage technology to address the national teacher shortage. This is to prepare some classrooms for more hybrid teaching with teachers and schools that choose this model in the future.
Edtech: We relied on ESSER funding to roll out 1:1 during lockdown. Are you interested in long-term sustainability?
Zuckerman: The funding cliff is very real. Let me be clear about that. Where I think we feel it most is in the device itself. As such, it will be difficult to maintain the scale to provide devices to all 136,500 students when federal funding is eventually exhausted.
Digging deeper: Explore tips for balancing government funding and budgets in the pandemic era.
We’ve been working closely with our CFOs on our financial sustainability plans this year, but the reality is that we may need to make some adjustments across our 1:1 programs. However, our current goal and commitment is to maintain that program in its current form.
Edtech: What are some unique ways you are using technology across your district?
Zuckerman: I think some of the most exciting work we do right now is powered by technology. For example, just a few weeks ago we launched an innovative telemedicine program. Our technology team was on board from the beginning to make sure our technology infrastructure, applications, and everything else worked to support telemedicine.
And some teachers are leveraging technology for differentiated teaching in ways unimaginable before the pandemic.