Longfellow school starts, makes another iPad leap
Since taking over as principal at Longfellow Elementary School three years ago, Kris Davidson has found himself at the helm of one of the district's most pioneering schools.
It is the only school in the district to run on a 45-15 schedule, and in March 2012, it was the first Rochester school to pilot a one-to-one iPad program.
But on Wednesday, Longfellow's first day of school on its year-round calendar, Davidson and his staff of 35 were preoccupied with a more fundamental concern: Welcoming a new class of 324 students. Technology and tablets took a back seat to building connections between teachers and students and between kids and the school's character-driven culture.
"It's kind of a family thing," said Davidson, who, along with other teachers, sported a burnt orange T-shirt emblazoned with the school's mascot, a leopard. "That's what we preach here. We are one big family."
Davidson spoke as he roamed Longfellow's hallways, equipped with a two-way radio that crackled with news from the school's front office, where parents and other visitors arrived.
Earlier in the day, Davidson had presided over the school's first "character assembly." There, he talked to students about the school's three core values — safety, respect and responsibility — beginning the building of expectations and a culture that will support the school's academics, he said.
Here, students receive gold slips for good behavior, and they are dispensed by the hundreds each week.
But Longfellow's most recent claim to fame has been its role as the district's laboratory for technology and tablets. That began in March 2012 when Superintendent Michael Muñoz chose Longfellow as a pilot for a one-to-one program in an effort to generate internal data to support a district-wide implementation. Each student in first and second grade was supplied with his or her own iPad tablet.
That effort will expand this year to cover all the school's grades, making Longfellow the district's first and only one-to-one school. And this year, in another first, students will have access to two SMART tables, large computer platforms that encourage students to collaborate and work in groups, officials say.
And what of the pilot? The data generated so far has offered promising hints of higher test scores and academic achievement, but are still far from conclusive. Officials point out that most pilot studies need three years to generate valid findings. Longfellow's experiment has lasted only five quarters.
But for Davidson, having seen students and teachers work with the tablets for more than a year, the verdict is in. The investment in technology has been a good one for Longfellow students, he said. In both math and reading, "I think we're moving kids," he added.
Davidson said that among Longfellow first-graders — those who had use of the tablets for a full year — the school saw the "highest level of gains" in reading. More students who entered first grade unable to read are moving to second grade now ready to read. And fewer of them are needing the intensive reading support that struggling readers often require.
One benefit of a one-to-one program is that students have access to an online library and reading material that suits their reading level.
But Davidson also emphasized that iPads are a "supplemental tool to what our staff does every day." It is one part of the educational mix. Also important is the teacher's relationship to the child, the curriculum, and the teamwork that takes place among teachers.
"The iPad is another component," he said. "The iPad creates access, equal access, for all of the kids who walk through our door every day. And when that happens, we're creating greater opportunities for our kids to learn."