Tech Capital: Spotlight on Twelve Silicon Valley Districts

Tech Capital: Spotlight on Twelve Silicon Valley Districts


While Silicon Valley is well-known as the tech capital of the world, it’s not surprising that it’s become a one stop shop for school leaders in the market for new school models. While it’s home to charter schools such as Summit Public Schools and Rocketship Education, they aren’t the only ones known for innovation. In the Silicon Valley, there are a plethora of public school districts who are proving themselves to be just as inventive as their charter school counterparts.

So, we thought we’d take a moment to profile 12 Silicon Valley school districts and network, along with two of the main county offices of education. Step into anyone of these 12 schools and expect to see more than technology integration. These schools are home to a mixture of maker education, game-based learning, competency models and of course, blended learning.

These quick snippets are just a few examples of how learning and teaching are being transformed. We hope to celebrate even more at the upcoming EdSurge Tech for Schools Summit this weekend.

Los Altos School District

(Los Altos, CA; 4,550 students)
  • Virtual Reality: Since spring 2014, the district has been working with ZSpace, a company that creates a 3D learning experience, to develop content for 3D instruction. The district is continuing this partnership in 2014-15. The district sees a great deal of value in engaging and exposing their students to innovative tools, even if they aren’t a mature product.
  • CSTEM: LASD is one of the few public school districts in the area that exposes every sixth grader to coding. With funding support from the parent-led Los Altos Educational Foundation (LAEF), a year-long program called CSTEM introduces programming through creative and collaborative projects like creating art through code and building video games. In 2013, the district added another type of school event to its calendar--a coding showcase and competition. In the 2014-15 school year, the district will begin using an integrated approach to engineering, ensuring that it is integrated across the curriculum.

Menlo Park City School District

(Menlo Park, CA; 2,903 students)
  • Stanford d.School: About 20 MPCSD teachers worked with design thinkers at the Stanford d.School as part of a district- wide partnership. The work was focused on designing lessons that support implementation of the Common Core in grades K-8.
  • 1:1 iPad Initiative: At Hillview Middle School, all students have iPads that they are allowed to use both at school and at home. The 1:1 initiative rolled out slowly over the past few years. All students are required to take a special course covering iPad use and digital citizenship before bringing their iPads home.

Milpitas Unified School District

(Milpitas, CA; 10,300 students)
  • Rapid Redesign: In less than two years, Milpitas has become a standout example of transformation in public schools. After a three-month design process in the spring of 2012, Milpitas teachers pitched new school models to the Superintendent, his executive cabinet and the teachers’ union. The result as of fall 2014: most elementary and middle school classrooms are now implementing blended learning.
  • Blended Models: While schools continue to iterate their models, blended learning has caught on in every elementary school and most middle schools. The elementary schools are using some combination of large learning labs for digital curriculum and project-based learning activities, as well as rotating students through computer and non-computer-based activities in class. In the coming years, the district is hoping to find evidence that demonstrates efficacy of a blended learning approach.

Palo Alto Unified School District

(Palo Alto, CA; 12,466 students)
  • Unique PD: PAUSD has designed their own system for PD for technology. The system includes small group workshops, blended learning “certification,” and an annual conference where teachers share how they are incorporating technology into their classrooms. PAUSD also hosted a Google Educators Conference in summer 2014. The Gunn High School Campus was selected because of its robust wireless system, which was able to accommodate 2,000 devices at once. The conference has plans to return next summer. Every summer there are two events: PowerUp Technology and NexTech, which include multiple technology workshops. Teachers can get credit for attending these workshops, and there is a focus on teachers who are new to technology.
  • Inspiring Learning Spaces: Palo Alto High School (locally referred to as Paly) recently opened their $12M Media Arts Center. The building is two stories and is full of media, production, and technology tools that serve all subject areas. Gunn High School opened its Innovation Lab last year, which is outfitted with cutting edge furniture including node chairs (that roll), tables (with white boards), and walls covered with “idea paint” (which looks like a white board). Barron Park Elementary school recently opened their Maker Studio, which houses equipment that supports the “learning by doing” philosophy. The Maker Studio has a 3-D printer, Google Glass, a green screen for movie making and Lego Mindstorm robotics.

Ravenswood City School District

(East Palo Alto, CA; 4,030 students)
  • Makerspace Initiative: The STEM coordinator, Robert Pronovost, launched a Makerspace initiative at Los Robles Dual Language Academy in January 2014. The project is funded by the Ravenswood Education Foundation. The initiative has built Makerspaces at all schools in the district that provide students with STEM opportunities and experiences that will prepare them for high school. Each space has a set of Chromebooks, iPads and Macbooks. These experiences including programming and coding, engineering and robotics and design thinking. The makerspaces are utilized for individual student projects during recess and free time. It is also open to teachers to use for Common Core and Next Gen Science Standards projects.
  • TECHIE Team: In 2013-14 the district assembled a group of 13 teachers on the cutting edge of technology integration. This group gives recommendations about software which the district adopts and also becomes a resource for teachers in their schools. This year, the Techy Team has grown to 30 people.

Rocketship Education

(Redwood City, CA; 6,000 students)
  • Lauded Model: Over the past six years, the San Jose, CA-based charter school network has developed a replicable blended learning model. Students spend 75% of their time in traditional classes, where one teacher instructs 27 students. They then rotate into a learning lab, where they spend the rest of their time on adaptive educational software to sharpen their skills. Tools used in the lab include ST Math, Dreambox, EdElements, Typing Club, Lexia, MyON and iReady.
  • Data and Assessment: Over the past year, Rocketship has implemented a digital assessment and data system across the network. They use a combination of Illuminate to deliver assessments and Schoolzilla to visualize and merge all the data. Teachers now administer weekly formative assessments and use data to inform their instruction.

San Carlos School District

(San Carlos, CA; 3,378 students)
  • Partnerships: The district has partnered with several local Silicon Valley partners. On an annual basis the Oracle Education Foundation supports STEM education innitatives in SCSD. Most recently Oracle has helped establish computational thinking and engineering design as part of the K-8 curriculum. With Hewlett Packard, the district is piloting 200 HP Hybrid laptops to do a joint study on 1:1 environments in all of their 7th grade classes at one middle school. They are trying to understand how learning might be transformed by using technology and advanced analytics. San Carlos is joined in this study by schools in Johannesburg and Delhi.
  • Glass Lab: San Carlos has also partnered with Glass Labs to pilot their educational gaming products targeting middle school Common Core argumentative skills. The district is focused on how to blend individualized learning, gaming and project-based learning to support the Common Core.

San Jose Unified School District

(San Jose, CA; 33,152 students)
  • School Redesign: In 2014, Burnett Middle School and Lincoln High School received $1.3M to implement 21st century redesigns. Lincoln High School focused on increasing project-based learning. Students work together in technology labs to do large (up to 100 students) or small scale projects. Burnett Middle School piloted blended learning in algebra and aims to expand it to all core curricular areas. Students are grouped by ability level and engage in multiple learning experiences including self-paced online learning and group work with peers. Additionally, the school is using criterion-based grading, eliminating letter grades and giving students scores for specific areas of mastery.
  • College Readiness: From 2010-2013, SJUSD participated in the College Readiness Indicator Systems network (CRIS), a project through the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and the John W. Gardner Center at Stanford University, funded by the Gates Foundation. The goal of the project was to identify early academic indicators of future college readiness. The district came up with 11 performance measures for identifying students at risk of not becoming college ready.

San Mateo Union High School District

(San Mateo, CA; 8,163 students)
  • Common Core Shifts: As the district has integrated Common Core standards it has begun to develop a mastery-based approach for assessing students. The district aims to give students a chance to use portfolios as a way to demonstrate their learning. With this shift, the district is looking for tools that have interactivity, creation and collaboration opportunities, as well as data that informs instruction.
  • Focus on PD: The district has a multifaceted approach to professional development. The district uses embedded professional development time, instructional rounds, and hands-on work doing peer observations. Teachers also join research groups around academic literacy, developing strategies and uncovering how technology can support literacy. To support technology integration, the district hosted a Summer Institute where teachers worked together to design pilots that they are executing on this fall.

Santa Clara Unified School District

(Santa Clara, CA; 15,434 students)
  • The Great Outdoors: Peterson Middle School has a lot of outdoor space. The school has live video cameras set up around the area to allow students to observe and research nature in the outdoors.
  • Assistive Technology: Each student in special education has an Individual Education Plan that includes an assessment of the need for assistive technology, which can include devices as well as software to meet a student’s needs. The district has students using assistive technology such as AlphaSmart with word prediction software or Go Talks, iTouches, and iPads with apps such as Proloquo to Go.

Sequoia Union High School District

(Redwood City, CA; 9,393 students)
  • Prioritizing PD: The district is focusing all professional development around Common Core implementation and how to use technology to support it. The district plans to also provide additional professional development by giving teachers the opportunity to sign up for the Leading Edge Digital Educators Certificate. For teachers who successfully take and complete these online courses, the district will give them an additional five Chromebooks for their classroom.
  • Bio + Tech: Sequoia Union High School District is situated in the middle of Silicon Valley, surrounded by the tech and biotech industries, and it is clearly taking advantage of the location. It’s no surprise that every school in the district has both computer science and engineering courses, supported by Oracle. In addition, Carlmont High School supports a biotech program that gives students access to special classes, internships, guest speakers and lectures once a month, thanks to partnerships with companies such as Genentech.

Summit Public Schools

(Redwood City, CA; 2,100 students)
  • PLP: The Personalized Learning Plan enables students to drive their own learning so they can track their progress on goals, academic progress, projects and playlists. Students start on their dashboard where they can track current project status, content skills they’ve mastered and personal goals. Students can check which knowledge standards they have mastered, and access the playlist associated with those standards on Activate Instruction. Once on Activate Instruction, students can link back to Illuminate where they take assessments on demand. The data from these assessments is automatically fed back and reflected on the PLP.
  • Sharing: Summit recognizes the best way to impact more students is through powerful partnership with peers. Summit school leaders are seeking five to 20 partner schools by fall 2015; each of those schools will pilot its Personalized Learning Plan tool. With these schools, Summit will share best practices, playlists, projects and assessments. School network leaders hope to learn how to support implementation and adoption in schools other than their own.

Santa Clara County Office of Education

(Santa Clara, CA; 270,109 students)
  • Learning Edge Certification: SCCOE aims to provide support for teachers including training and coaching. The county offers workshops, some of which are pre-designed, and some of which can be customized. The county offers a few certification options through the national program Learning Edge Certification. Certifications are available for Online and Blended Teacher, Administrator, Digital Educator and Professional Learning Leader.
  • STEAM: The county values Science Technology Engineering Art and Math Education, and has a team that provides PD across all STEAM content areas. The county offers on-site opportunities that target implementation for specific programs, and integration of STEAM and technology into the classroom. PD experiences are customized based on the school and can cover topics such as STEAM Content, Project-Based Learning, Universal Access and Tech Integration across content areas.

San Mateo County Office of Education

(Redwood City, CA; 94,000 students)
  • The STEM Center: The STEM Center, a cutting edge technology center for professional development and video conferencing, opened in August 2012. The center has been used for professional development in Common Core State Standards for math, Next Generation Science Standards, programming for middle and high school teachers, forums on technology that supports learning, PreK-3 Math and Science, a three part series for teachers of grades 3-8 on Computer Science and Robotics in the Classroom, countywide STEM Fair for grades 5-12 and the state science fair. STEM Center initiatives include:
    • Making and 3D Technologies
    • Project-Based Learning aligned to CCSS
    • Design Thinking
  • iZone: SMCOE has a program called iZone which works with districts across the county to prepare them for personalized learning by helping them to upgrade digital infrastructure, collaborating and consolidating technology purchases when possible, leveraging student data to inform instruction, and build networks of educators to explore new teaching and learning strategies. 
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