New Ohio School Chief Zeroes in on Improving Learning with Technology's Help

Superintendent Bill Wade has been working with principals and teachers to change the way learning happens and help them get the most out of technology.

by / February 16, 2017 0
Mr. Bill Wade Kirtland Schools Superintendent

Six months into his new job, Bill Wade has already exceeded expectations with his focus on improving student learning and making the most of technology.

Wade became the superintendent of Kirtland Local Schools in Ohio last August after beating out 40 other candidates for the position. The former chemistry teacher stood out for his track record as a high school principal, his experience in the classroom and his academic mindset. 

"He's an educator, and he's an education leader, and that came through very clearly in the interviews," said Tim Cosgrove, president of the Kirtland Local School District Board of Education. "I would say more than anything, that's really what drove our decision." 

For his part, Wade decided he wanted to be an administrator after shadowing his administrator cousin in Michigan. Wade enjoyed working with the at-risk students that his cousin helped, and as part of his first master's degree program at John Carroll University, he did his student teaching for a year in Cleveland's inner-city Collinwood High School to help more of these students. 

After three years of teaching chemistry, Wade became an assistant principal and then the principal at Riverside High School before spending the next five years as the Mentor High School principal. At Mentor, he was part of the team that worked closely with both Mentor and Kirtland school districts on a $13.8 million Straight A grant from the Ohio Education Department in 2015, which was part of a $250 million fund Gov. John Kasich proposed to help schools create innovative learning environments. The grant helped both districts provide a computing device to each high school student, change how learning happened, increase student engagement and redesign the learning environment with things like flexible furniture. 

"Teachers inherently try to do what's best for their kids," Wade said. "Technology allows them to do that in a new and innovative way."

Because he had already been collaborating with Kirtland on the same teaching and learning shifts, it was an easy decision to go after the superintendent position.

In his first six months as superintendent, Wade created a tech committee that developed a five-year district technology plan and made sure teachers and principals were involved in the process so teaching and learning would remain at the center. On Jan. 30, the board approved the plan to expand the 1-to-1 technology initiative that started with the grant.

In Kirtland, eighth- through 12th-graders already had devices thanks to the grant, but through some creative budgeting, Wade's team has figured out how to extend the initiative. The district will sell back the MacBooks it owns and use the money to buy new Lenovo N22 Windows Notebooks, part of a move that resulted in a cost savings of $177,000 over the previous technology plan. Next school year, fifth- through seventh-graders will also get devices, followed by third- through fourth-graders in 2018-19. In 2019-20, K-2 students will have one device for every two students.

But while devices are important, they're just one piece of a strategy to support teachers and help them develop the skills they need so they can move to more student-centered, personalized learning. Professional development that's tailored to each teacher's ability level is an important part of supporting teachers, Wade said.

Throughout this period of change, Wade has been using the Knoster Model as his guide, which gives leaders a formula to manage complex change: Vision + Consensus + Skills + Incentives + Resources + Action Plan = Change. When any of those pieces is missing, it results in problems including sabotage, confusion, frustration, anxiety, resistance and treadmill (not going anywhere), according to the model. 

So far, his efforts have been successful. Cosgrove noted that because of the conversations he's led and his academic lens, the school district community has become more excited about technology's potential benefits in the classroom.

"Technology should not be feared; technology is actually a device that can supplement what teachers do and can improve the education experience for the child and really change the way you teach," Cosgrove said. "He's been very focused on really leveraging technology at all levels to improve the academic outcomes." 

Tanya Roscorla Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covers ed tech behind the scenes and on the legislative agenda. Likes: Culinary experiments, travel adventures, beautiful landscapes.