SETDA chief Tracy Weeks on digital learning, ESSA and professional development

As edtech leaders were wrapping up three days of meetings at the State Education Technology Directors Association’s national leadership summit late last month, EdScoop caught up with SETDA’s executive director, Tracy Weeks, to talk about the
trade group’s efforts to promote education technologies and digital learning in U.S. schools.

Weeks, a former high school math teacher who became the first chief academic and digital learning officer for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, was tapped to lead SETDA last February .

In this interview with EdScoop, Weeks highlighted the importance for state education technology directors to get ready for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which replaces No Child Left Behind, beginning in the 2017-2018 school year.

“Educational technology and the opportunity to use it is woven through every single piece of ESSA and all of the title programs,” Weeks said. “The challenge then, when we’re working with our state leaders, and district leaders, is are you going to take advantage of that opportunity…and how are we really going to capitalize on ESSA.”

Weeks also highlighted SETDA’s latest efforts to help close the so-called homework gap, with its recent release of recommendations that advance the use of broadband in schools and their broader communities. The broadband and digital infrastructure recommendations are part of a national effort to reduce digital inequities between students who do, and don’t, have easy access to the internet to do their homework.

Weeks also talked about the trade group’s strategic plans to better support professional development of state education leaders, with information tool kits. Those tool kits are intended not only to help advance the expertise of SETDA members, but also help provide professional development to ed tech leaders in their states and raise awareness with state officials, she said.

“When we look at states that are really moving forward when it comes to digital learning,” in every one of them, “there is a relationship and a partnership between the state education chief, the governor’s office and the state legislature,” she said. “They’re all working together…and finding that synergy around that common goal of where they want to move learning in their state, and to leverage digital tools.”

“Where we’re not seeing success is where those entities aren’t
working together,” she said.

Among the highlights from the SETDA Leadership Summit, Weeks said perhaps the most moving was the testimony during the conference of a former student who once was at risk of dropping out of school.

“His district did something that was innovative at the time, and that was really pushing ahead with a one-to-one (personalized learning) program,” and giving him the means to access online learning technologies. “That really helped pull him back into school,” she said. That student went on to college and is now a successful young professional today, she said.

“What’s really exciting for me is we’re starting to hear one-to-one (learning) is old terminology,” and that schools are continuing to move to more collaborative learning techniques.

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