Grants provide educators with tech training

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TEACH program funds school districts, libraries
By: 

Warren Bluhm, wbluhm@newmedia-wi.com


Gov. Scott Walker, left, gets a briefing from Corey Jeffers, director of technology for Oconto Falls schools, about how state Technology for Educational Achievement grants have been used to enhance infrastructure upgrades and related training in local schools. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

Gov. Scott Walker stopped at Oconto Falls High School last week to promote the latest round of grants for the Technology for Educational Achievement, or TEACH, program that are aimed at increasing training opportunities for teachers.

The grants totaling $1.4 million include $56,725 for TRITON — the technology consortium that includes not only the Oconto Falls School District but Gillett, Suring, Lena, Bonduel, Crivitz, Oconto, Peshtigo and Wausaukee as well.

“These increases in particular are important because they’re targeted toward rural school districts and rural library systems,” Walker said, “districts with less than 13 students per square mile.”

While that number sounds like a small percentage, it actually embraces almost half of all districts in the state. The training grants were awarded to 196 rural school districts and 172 public libraries. In addition to training grants, TEACH also offers grants for infrastructure and curriculum development.

A prior grant allowed five educators from Oconto Falls, and several more from other TRITON schools, to attend the International Society for Technology Education annual conference June 24-27 in Chicago, said Corey Jeffers, director of technology for the Oconto Falls School District.

The state bent the rules, which usually allow for travel only inside Wisconsin, because the international conference is rarely held in the Midwest, Jeffers said.

It was a chance for local teachers to interact with national and international leaders in tech education and learn what’s been successful — “being able to use technology in a way that’s actually enhancing their classroom, engagement enhancement, the things that we’re looking for,” he said.

A number of Oconto Falls teachers have been exploring the idea of a Genius Hour, which provides students freedom to design their own learning during a set period of time during school. Jeffers said the work is built around students developing “passion projects.”

“It’s not just a free-for-all; it’s learning how to set a goal, learning how to do some research, how to actually achieve your goal and be able to find a way of accountability for it,” he said.

The training might otherwise be inaccessible for rural educators without the TEACH grants, Jeffers said.

Another aspect of the TEACH program is granting dollars to improve infrastructure in schools, he added.

“We just got done putting in access points in every classroom in all of our buildings, brand-new switches, brand-new power structures, universal power supplies, so the people who do go to those professional development kinds of things can come back and they know that the technology’s actually going to work here,” Jeffers said.

Superintendent Dean Hess credited Jeffers with the infrastructure upgrade.

“Corey has been a phenomenal change agent for the technology we’re trying to get,” Hess said. “The communities we serve have been extremely supportive to help get the devices into the hands of kids.” He added that having proper infrastructure in place is just as important as obtaining the new technology. “It’s like the governor is saying, it’s great to have the tools. But if you don’t know how to use the tools – in this case, if you know how to use the tools but you don’t have the juice to drive it – it’s not usable.”

The state has invested about $31 million this biennium in rural access between the broadband access grants via the state Public Service Commission and the TEACH grants administered by the Department of Administration, Walker said.