Pioneer Awards Honor Nanuet, Clarkstown, and Hastings
May 8, 2009
Two technology directors and two elementary school teachers were among this year’s Pioneer Award-winners honored for their commitment to education and their ability to successfully integrate technology into the curriculum.
The initiative, in its 16th year, is an opportunity for the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center to recognize leaders at all levels and to encourage the winners to continually share their vision with other educators throughout the region.
“Everyday, technology is changing,” said Director Jim O’Brien in his remarks to approximately 85 local school district representatives attending the May 8 event at the Edith Macy Conference Center in Briarcliff. “What’s pioneering today might be old hat tomorrow; how it’s implemented and the difference it makes in the lives of students is most important.”
Sarah Martabano, regional coordinator and facilitator of distance education, handed out the first award to Ursula Carbone, director of technology and chief information officer for the Nanuet Schools. Ms. Carbone was recognized for her willingness to expand Nanuet’s vision of technology and to introduce the latest in cutting-edge technology.
This former teacher is credited with bringing Smartboards to every classroom in the high school, most of the middle school, and in several areas at the elementary school level. Videoconferencing and virtual education have also been introduced to Nanuet students, thanks to Ms. Carbone’s efforts, with the high school offering several distance learning courses to its students. Ms. Carbone’s ability to create an environment where children take charge of their own learning through the use of wikis and blogs was also highlighted during the awards ceremony.
Ms. Carbone was gracious upon receiving her award, touting the efforts of all Nanuet teachers and administrators. “This might be the smallest district in Rockland County,” said Ms. Carbone, “but I believe we have the greatest educators in the business of teaching and learning.”
In recommending John Krouskoff for the Pioneer Award, Clarkstown Superintendent Dr. Meg Keller-Cogan described this likeable administrator as a “talented individual who remains above and beyond the curve in terms of the newest technology trends.” Krouskoff, who serves as that district’s director of instructional technology, is deserving of the award.
Over the past two years, Krouskoff has replaced many of the district’s old classroom computers with newer, more efficient machines, and has also implemented several initiatives within the Clarkstown schools, including Google applications for domains that encourage anytime/anywhere collaborative access between students and teachers, and a successful Smartboard rollout in 14 district schools.
Krouskoff works tirelessly with teachers, providing ample professional development opportunities to help them understand the new technologies, and includes all district stakeholders in the technology planning process to ensure that students receive the proper tools for learning. Krouskoff credited his efforts to a “team approach” that includes learning facilitators and teachers “who are not afraid to take risks,” he said.
“We have so many opportunities as educators,” said Krouskoff. “We must not squander them, but instead work collectively to make a difference in the lives of the students we serve.”
Two innovative teachers from the Hastings School District were the recipients of the final awards of the day. Both Nate Morgan, an art teacher at Hillside Elementary School, and Jeff Rosof, a fourth-grade teacher, also at Hillside Elementary, were credited for collaborating with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on a three-part webinar course titled “Connecting Portraits: Colonial to Contemporary.” Students had the opportunity to use live chat, video, audio, whiteboard tools, and PowerPoint slides as part of this innovative distance learning course.
Mr. Morgan was also singled out for the award because of his efforts to build upon the critical thinking skills of students. He frequently encourages children to embrace the technological tools available to them, such as posting their work on websites like Artsonia.com, a children’s online museum, and Voicethread.com, a web-based digital storytelling application that allows students to share their images with others.
The “deep, rich educational experience that the Hastings School District has created for students and its efforts to embrace the arts as a core component of the educational experience of students” is noteworthy, said Mr. Morgan, who was also recognized for sharing his online learning ideas with other teachers in the district and through the professional development conferences he coordinates at the state level.
Mr. Rosof, the other Hastings’ award-winner, was equally gratified to receive the Pioneer Award for his work with the Met, an experience he described as “enriching for me and for my students.” A certified Smartboard user, Mr. Rosof weaves a variety of technological tools into his daily lessons. Brent Harrington, the district’s director of technology, who recommended him for the award, cited Mr. Rosof’s use of the Smart document camera to display real-time images on the Smartboard, and his use of Senteo, the interactive response system.
Earlier in the day, Willard Daggett, president of the International Center for Leadership in Education, described what school districts in New York State must do to prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century. The Center was established in 1991 to research successful practices in K-12 education that adequately prepare students for a changing world.
“New York State has very good schools, but almost none of them are improving,” said Dr. Daggett, who added that very little innovation was emerging from schools in the northeast, and used the Cypress-Fairbanks School District in Texas as a district that uses innovative and creative methods to boost student performance.
Dr. Daggett suggested that school districts here in New York State could improve their outcomes by using their federal stimulus funds wisely. “Instead of using the money to keep the old system afloat, how about using it to reposition the entire system?” he asked. Effective and sustained school improvement can only happen, noted Dr. Daggett, if there is a shared vision toward change that is based on rigor, relevance and relationships for all students, he added.
Attaining high performance at a low cost should be the ultimate goal of all districts, he said. Referring to New York State schools in particular, Dr. Daggett said too much emphasis has been placed on test performance. “We have become fixated with the test as the definition of an education,” noted Dr. Daggett, “and we have made it the end-line of a public education.”
The best way to make learning meaningful — with or without technology — is by appealing to a student’s interests, learning styles and aptitudes. For example, instead of teaching math in isolation, teachers should be connecting math problems to real-world applications, making the material easier to understand and grasp, explained Dr. Daggett. The issue should no longer be whether calculators and computers are used in the classroom, but how the technology can be used to enhance instruction and skills, he said. Ultimately, said Dr. Daggett, “relevance makes rigor possible for most students.”
To help create more student engagement in the classroom, Dr. Daggett suggested that schools take several steps, including: cultivating one-on-one relationships between students and teachers, encouraging teachers to learn new skills and habits, incorporating systematic strategies and approaches that will facilitate student engagement, taking responsibility for student engagement practices, promoting a school-wide culture of engagement, and enhancing professional development opportunities for educators.