Lafayette Parish tech director on transforming learning with tight tech budgets

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LaShona Dickerson, technology director for the Lafayette Parish School System in Louisiana, has always had a vision for incorporating technology into the classroom and into professional development for teachers. She is currently overseeing a district-wide Chromebook initiative, which will put the devices in the hands of each child in the next year.

Dickerson shared ways that the Lafayette Parish, which serves roughly 30,000 students, is transforming learning and teaching through technology under her leadership.

Below is an edited and condensed version of her Q&A with EdScoop.

EdScoop: What are your district’s top technology priorities this year?

LaShona Dickerson: As we put more devices in the hands of students, it is extremely important that teachers understand how to effectively integrate the tools, administrators understand how to evaluate effective integration, and parents understand the learning opportunities that will be afforded to their children.

ES: How did you come into your role?

LD: Technology has always been a part of my career. I was a business education teacher with a minor in computer science. In the classroom, technology was always a part of instruction. When I became a school administrator, I began to incorporate technology in professional development sessions and provided teachers with tech tools to integrate in their classrooms. I shared tips and assisted colleagues who were not as proficient as I. It just seems like this role was a natural progression in my career. My impact on the classroom and student learning is instrumental in the success of students, teachers and schools. I absolutely love what I do.

ES: What is the most exciting or interesting project your district is working on?

LD: Lafayette Parish is transforming teaching and learning. That in itself is exciting for me. If I have to single out one project it would definitely be putting those devices in the hands of our younger student population. They are so eager and appreciative of the allocation of devices for not only themselves, but for their school. They’ve expressed to me how it has changed the way they feel about learning and how empowered they feel [by technology]. Every time I think about that it makes me smile. I have wall space in my office of student notes. It keeps me going and fighting for funding to keep doing what we are doing.

ES: When are devices scheduled to roll out?

LD: We have 43 schools in our district. Seven schools are in the initial rollout, and that is beginning now. Teachers at those schools are participating in professional development. Devices are being ordered and should be in the hands of students sometime in September.

ES: How is the role of a school technology specialist or leader changing?

LD: It’s a role that’s always evolving just as technology evolves. It’s a norm in this role, I believe. Technology leaders have many moving gears to manage. Each gear impacts the interlocking gear on the machine and everyone uses and depends on the machine. It’s an all-inclusive role . We have to understand the education space, political realm, financial impacts and, most of all, the return on such an investment in learning.

ES: How big is your budget for technology and infrastructure?

LD: My budget is not nearly enough for a district of my size. As a matter of fact, it’s below the national average. I have a budget for instructional technology of $1.5 million. I make it work, though; I have to. The students and teachers need me to make it work for them.

ES: What do you think the job will look like in 10 years?

LD: Technology will take us as far as we allow it to take us. Sadly, for some of us, it will be no different. It is extremely difficult for some school systems to afford what the students truly deserve and experience outside of school. The 10-year forecast is dependent on a school district. For me, I will still be working to provide students with the best tools to satisfy their learning thirsts while keeping them safe in the cyber realm.

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