Technology With A Cause: Spotlight on Eight Seattle Districts

Technology With A Cause: Spotlight on Eight Seattle Districts


With Microsoft, Amazon and T-Mobile in its backyard, it’s not surprising to find that technology making has made its way into schools in the Seattle region. However, as EdSurge prepares to make the trek from the City of Fog to the Land of Rain, we thought we’d do a little digging to see how far technology’s made it from Seattle’s skyscrapers to classrooms on the ground.

What we’ve found is that technology is about a lot more than devices and fun tools. The regions districts are using it conscientiously. They are using it to give families access, meet the needs of a growing diverse community and provide equal chances for all students to take challenging courses. And yet, from the city where the local coffee company (Starbucks) offers college degrees to employees, we’d expect nothing less than technology with a cause.

Here’s a sneak peak into eight Seattle districts and how they’re using technology.

Auburn School District

(In Auburn, WA; 15,200 Students)
  • Digital Communication: The district is increasing its online communication, specifically with parents through social media, e-newsletters and its SIS’s parent portal called Family Access. Over the past few years, more than two million communications (in multiple languages) have been sent out to the community through e-newsletters, social media and Family Access.
  • Changing Demographics: The district has undergone a dramatic change in its student population. Over the past few years, the percentage of students living in poverty rose from 30% to 60%. Therefore, the district leadership has stressed the need for students to have more than one year of academic growth and set the target at 1.5 years because one year won’t be enough to catch them up. The district focuses deeply on standards, data and specific learning targets. It uses Dibbles assessments regularly and administer MAP tests three times a year to track student growth.

Federal Way Public Schools

(In Federal Way, WA; 22,439 Students)
  • Global Partnership: In 2013 Federal Way was chosen to be a part of A Global Partnership: New Pedagogies for Deep Learning. Global Partnerships is an initiative led by Dr. Michael Fullan & Maria Langworthy in partnership with Microsoft, Promethean, Intel, The Gates Foundation and more. Students in over 1000 schools across the world will use technology to collaborate, think critically and solve real world problems.
  • Tech Schools: Federal Way has a K-12 virtual school, Internet Academy, and a 6th-12th grade STEM-based school, Technology Access Foundation (TAF) Academy. TAF Academy was founded in 2008 in partnership with the nonprofit Technology Access Foundation. Students use technology to work on projects related to science, engineering and math. The school is located on Totem Middle School’s campus.

Highline Public Schools

(In Burien, WA; 18,702 Students)
  • Mobile App: Highline released a mobile app in 2014. Parents, students, faculty, and staff can use the app to view district news, events, calendars, contact information and more. The content in the app can also be translated to 70 different languages
  • Getting Personal: Highline participates in a personalized learning initiative led by the Puget Sound Educational Service District and Pacific Lutheran University, funded by the Gates Foundation, called BlendEd. Through this program two schools (Midway Elementary and Cascade Middle School) spent last year researching, visiting other schools, implementing blended learning, and refining their own models. Midway Elementary is implementing a multi- tiered system of support through core content and instructional programs both traditional and technology-based, which will work to meet students at all learning levels through a station rotation model. Cascade Middle School uses a rotation model in all content classes.
  • Credit Recovery: In 2012 the district began offering online credit recovery courses. According to Highline, it is still fine-tuning its model but it’s happy with the progress it has seen. So far over 70% of enrolled students have successfully earned course credits toward graduation.

Kent School District

(In Kent, WA; 27,378 Students)
  • iGrad: In 2010 Kent developed iGrad, a blended learning, alternative education program for secondary students at risk of dropping out. Students ages 16-21 enroll in individual online courses and complete them at their own pace. Students are required to attend weekly sessions at school, which is located in a shopping mall. Through a partnership with a local community college, students can also receive college credits.
  • Digital Divide: In 2003, Kent initiated a Student Technology, Access, and Resources program, focused on getting technology and 21st century resources into the homes of families that need them. Every year the district distributes its older computers to families that qualify for the program. Over 5,000 refurbished computers have been distributed and each one includes a free Microsoft Digital Literacy suite. In addition, the STAR program has helped set up free public Internet hotspots around the community that provide access for devices within 150 feet.

Lake Washington School District

(Redmond, WA; 26,557 Students)
  • Access Pass: The district’s recently passed levy supports over 28,000 staff and students computers. Last year, the district kicked off its “Mobile Access for Students” program, providing every middle and high school student with a laptop or network, that they can take home. For elementary students, there are computer carts for every school that provide 3:1 access for kindergarten through second grade and 2:1 access for third through fifth grade. Devices across the district all have Windows-based operating systems.
  • Learning Management Bundle: With new devices, the district also adopted a learning management system to improve communication and collaboration online. Teachers use Haiku to make class announcements, assignments and share calendars. Teachers use Dyknow to manage content delivery, workgroups, and monitor student activity on the web. The district uses both devices in tandem to round out their LMS functionality.

Renton Public Schools

(Renton, WA; 15,917 Students)
  • LMS Pilot: In 2013-14 the district released an RFP for a learning management system. After talking with several other districts it selected Canvas and will pilot it this year in a few schools. If successful, the district will be rolling Canvas out in the 2015-16 school year. The district plans to use Canvas as a central place for teachers to store their curriculum, collaborate and communicate about their lessons, what’s working and what isn’t.
  • Dream A Little DreamBox: The district has implemented DreamBox as a supplementary tool to support remediation or acceleration of math. The district had moved from another supplemental tool to DreamBox because of its close alignment to Common Core. As the district continues to evaluate different software packages, its first priority is to ensure alignment to the Common Core.

Seattle Public Schools

(Seattle, WA; 51,857 Students)
  • Beyond Productivity: The district believes that while technology can be a great productivity tool, its impact on learning this way is limited. To make better use of technology, the district aims for teachers to teach students how to make choices about the tools they use, and to use those tools to think critically and solve problems. There are seven education technology coaches that work across the district to support teachers.
  • Neighborly Assistance: The district benefits in its proximity to Microsoft through the Teals Program. The Teals Program offers schools access to Microsoft programmers who will come to the schools regularly to teach computer science classes. Through these classes, students learn the ins and outs of computer programming by working on projects.

Tukwila School District

(Tukwila, WA; 3,000 Students)
  • A Device For Everyone: This year, the district is well on its way to equipping every student with a device. Last year, it went 1:1 with Chromebooks in all three of its elementary schools. This year, it’s the middle schoolers’ turn. And next year, the high school and K-2nd graders will receive their devices. While the district has favored Chromebooks with its recent rollouts, it is still examining the types of tools that are right for its high school. Currently, the district has 2,400 Chromebooks and 1,500 Windows machines. The district is evaluating the possibility of allowing students to take home their devices, although currently they must remain at school.
  • Language Matters: The district is no stranger to being lost in translation. Students in the district speak over 82 languages, many of whom are from refugee communities. The district has a lot of students for whom English is their second language, and many who come to their schools without any English language skills at all. Because of this, language tools are a focus, and the district is constantly thinking about how to support this community better. 
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