Picture in your mind the IT Director of a large organization, who trains hundreds of employees who serve over 5000 clients each and every day. And then picture in your mind a kindergarten teacher, guiding 4 and 5-year-olds along the journey of learning to read and write.
Were the images in your head one and the same? Well, in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District, they should be.
Christy Bauer, IT Director for the district, spent eleven years at Oxford teaching kindergarten, 2nd grade, and Title I Reading.
But technology has always been at the core of her work. While at Oxford, she earned her Masters in Educational Technology. Then in 2010, she took a job at the high school supporting teachers as they integrated technology into their instruction. In the fall of 2019, Dr. Bauer was named the Director of Information Technology for the district.
And what a year to be an IT director.
“This is definitely not what I thought I’d be doing right now,” said Dr. Bauer of the rapid shift the district—and entire country— have made from in-person to remote schooling. “But our district’s classroom teachers have been preparing for this even if they didn't know it.”
“But our district’s classroom teachers have been
preparing for this even if they didn't know it.”
CH-UH teachers have been using the Google Suite for Education for several years, though some had more fully integrated technology into their teaching than others. Before the pandemic, that is. Since mid-March, all district teachers have undergone a complete revision of how they present material and how they reach their students. For certain teachers, especially those in pre-school, kindergarten, elementary “specials,” and career technical courses, the shift has been more dramatic than others.
One preschool teacher drove around town delivering materials to each student’s house so she could guide them online as they made Play-doh. A middle school engineering teacher has done the same, though not with Play-Doh supplies.
Several pre-K and kindergarten teachers have held special Google Meets with parents to walk them through the process of using Google classroom so they can help their children, who aren't yet independent readers, navigate school.
Teachers have had to reestablish all of the norms and routines they use in their classrooms: How does someone raise their hand in a Google hangout? How do elementary teachers conduct morning circle time? What does it mean to take attendance, especially if three siblings are sharing one computer?
Dr. Bauer, who works with the mindset of a classroom teacher, has helped to guide teachers through all of these decisions and to share the best practices of their peers through her weekly Tech Tuesday emails.
Jenna Tucker, Roxboro Elementary music teacher, called her a “life saver. She helped me set up my Google classroom and think of how to serve all 300 music students in a way that’s meaningful.”
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The first order of business when the announcement came that schools were shutting down for three weeks was to get computers into the hands of district families, and to do it fast. That process in CH-UH was incredibly effective, serving as a model for nearby districts. Dr. Bauer’s team, which consists of eight school-based technicians, organized three days during which 1,344 parents signed out Chromebooks for home use, from the safety of their own cars. The IT department has continued to fulfill requests, which average about 50 per week.
“Digital equity issues are not new in CH-UH,”
said Dr. Bauer. “But they’ve taken center-stage
in a whole different way.”
“I will deliver Chromebooks up until the very last day of school,” said Dr. Bauer who knows that remote learning cannot succeed without universal access to technology. Families are welcome to keep their computers over the summer if needed. The district recently secured mobile Hot Spots which have been delivered to the homes of students without reliable internet access. “Digital equity issues are not new in CH-UH,” said Dr. Bauer. “But they’ve taken center-stage in a whole different way.”
Dr. Bauer is part of a statewide network of district IT directors and technology coordinators, who meet regularly to discuss approaches, challenges, and successes. They used to meet monthly but have been meeting weekly online since the closure. “Everyone has unique challenges,” said Dr. Bauer. “In some rural districts, even teachers don't even have Wi-Fi.”
Despite enormous challenges for all, Dr. Bauer has been impressed with the positive attitude and rapid response of Heights teachers. “There are amazing things happening here,” she said, describing how deeply teachers and support staff care for their students. Social workers, guidance counselors, classroom teachers, and even building principals have been personally calling and at times visiting (outside) the homes of students to ensure all their needs are being met.
“Teachers are used to focusing on the whole child,
not just the content material.”
“Teachers are used to focusing on the whole child, not just the content material,” said Dr. Bauer. “When they can’t ensure that their needs are being met, it breaks their hearts. I’ve had teachers drive in from the Westside to pick up a single Chromebook to deliver to a child’s house because their parent doesn't have a car and the teacher is the one they trust to come to their home.”
* * * * * * * * *
Christy Bauer still loves learning. She recently earned Certified Education Technology Leader (CETL) designation from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), by passing a rigorous exam and mastering the skills necessary to bring 21st century technology to K-12 students. According to the press release from CoSN, “To become certified, the candidate must have demonstrated experience in the education technology field and pass a comprehensive two-part examination based on the 10 skill areas.” According to Dr. Bauer, she just did it as a personal challenge.
She also still loves teaching. Her favorite part of her job is leading professional development workshops for staff, which she used to do in person. She now models using Google tools so that teachers are able to see the classroom from the perspective of their students. Teachers needed to be able to see what happened when a new assignment was posted, or a teacher sent them a message, or they earned a new grade. “They’re not going to be able to help their students troubleshoot if they don't know what it looks like from their end.”
Trouble-shooting is the name of the game for IT departments. In the pre-corona world, Dr. Bauer and her staff spent much of their days responding to Help Desk tickets, which teachers or staff would fill out whenever they had issues with technology. Most teacher and student Chromebooks can be accessed remotely, which is particularly useful right now when one of the school-based technicians can fix the problem from afar without going into a building or classroom.
“I try to balance trouble-shooting with forward-thinking.”
Sometimes, they’ll speak directly to parents or students to guide them as they resolve their issue, but teachers usually serve as the go-between. In one week since the closure, the IT department received and resolved 252 Help Desk tickets. Dr. Bauer also responds to between 40 and 50 emails from teachers and principals each day, usually first thing in the morning. “The whole district is relying on technology no matter their role. Their concerns are important to them.”
“I try to balance trouble-shooting with forward-thinking,” said Dr. Bauer, who looks carefully at both quantitative and qualitative data. “I meet with my team members every Friday to discuss what went well and what went poorly, which helps us set goals for the next week.” She raves about her team, insisting that this is “not a one-woman show.” Each building also has a teacher who serves as a technology coach for their peers, because they either hold G-Suite for Education certification or have taken Masters level educational technology courses.
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Right now, the IT department is deeply involved in discussions around what school will look like next year, working through the plans for multiple scenarios depending on whether students are in their buildings fulltime, part-time, or not at all. “IT has always been thought of as supporting the technology,” said Dr. Bauer. “But now we’re about how to use the technology to do all the things that schools do.”
“Every teacher has stepped up and out of their
comfort zone and is doing new and different
things to support students.”
“Every teacher has stepped up and out of their comfort zone and is doing new and different things to support students,” she said. “My job is to encourage and support them.”
The teachers feel it. One after another commented on how professional Dr. Bauer is and how quickly and kindly she responds to their questions and needs. “Christy Bauer shares quality information, responds to questions and requests in a timely and through manner, and provides relevant and productive suggestions to support student learning,” said Fairfax 5th grade teacher Kristi Glasier.
“Bauer is always super kind,” said Oxford 5th grade teacher Kristie Marbury. “She responds to questions with immediate answers and continues to send out Tuesday Tips, which have been super helpful.”
And 6th grade science teacher Megan McLaughlin said, “Christy Bauer really is a jewel in the district’s crown.” And the district has noticed. Christy Bauer was recently selected by her peers as Tiger Administrator of the Year.
* * * * * * * * *
She certainly never imagined that this is how her first year in a leadership role would go. But Christy Bauer sees the silver lining. Even if everything were to go back to normal, she hopes the teachers will continue to use the skills they’ve learned and the tools they’re comfortable with. “If a parent can't make it to Curriculum Night, now the teachers can easily create a video of their presentation and send it with a class email or post it in their Google classroom.”
As everyone becomes more proficient with a variety of online options, Dr. Bauer hopes that teachers will continue to use those they find most most valuable, such as Edmentum’s ability to tailor questions to a student’s ability level. “Technology can differentiate much faster than a teacher with 25 students can.”
“Technology is awesome, but it can never
do what a trained educator can do.”
But, even as the IT Director, she knows that technology has its limits. “All the research points to the importance of relationships,” those between teachers and students, teachers and teachers, and students and students. “No matter how well we do with remote learning, compromise, getting along with others, collaboration . . . they’re all missing.”
And spoken like the teacher she is at heart, Christy Bauer said, “Technology is awesome, but it can never do what a trained educator can do.”