Every intermediate school district offers a unique set of services to their local districts, so how each one has engaged with online learning over the past decade is different. Here, the superintendent of the Saginaw ISD explains how her staff has provided technical assistance to local districts, and how demand for those services has grown.
As an ISD superintendent, why do you value online learning?
In general, online course offerings are beneficial to a wide variety of students who might not be able to attend school because they have obligations, like training with a team outside their regular school team, or if they're homebound for one reason or another. The online course experience is so valuable. And having an adult facilitator for students in the online classroom is essential to the success of the online experience.
From your perspective, how has online learning changed the way ISDs function?
My technology team is working very hard to assist our local school district with accessing the online learning opportunities and tools that are there for teachers and students.
Their schedules are very busy, because we have a few districts that have transitioned to one-to-one device initiatives, so the opportunities for my staff to assist our local teachers and administrators has expanded greatly.
Has the level of assistance local districts need changed over the past decade?
Oh, it's changed tremendously. Even more so in the last five years, with a lot of teachers interested in blended learning opportunities. Our technology team is helping and assisting teachers with how to organize that blended learning experience.
How do they deliver that assistance?
Our tech team provides that assistance during professional learning days, attending staff meetings — whatever fits into the school's schedule, they go in and help.
What is the biggest challenge for providing technical assistance to local districts today?
The biggest challenge right now is the number of devices and strength of internet connection.
Just having enough devices on hand and finding the time to help students is a challenge. Time is a big resource.
We're stretched for staffing. As an ISD, we're tenth largest in the state for student population. But ISDs are funded in part by local millages, and in millage revenues, we're 52 out of 56. So while we would like to expand our technology team, we're not able to. All of us here and there spend time providing tech tips and helping out wherever we can.
What do you hope to see over the next ten years from online learning?
I see the demand for growth, but I see we have the capacity for that growth. I want to make certain that we don't lose sight of the fact that teachers are valuable facilitators and are so important to the learning process. Having that face-to-face and social interaction is so valuable for helping students to grow socially and emotionally, as well as academically.
Q&A with Kathy Stewart
Supt. of Saginaw Intermediate School Dist
By Natalie Burg