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Margie Hay-Ashcraft

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on December 6, 2008 at 4:39:44 pm

Margie Hay- Ashcraft

Rantoul Township High School is located in Champaign County in Illinois.  The population of the high school-only district is 790 students.  The district is home to students from 5 different feeder districts, Gifford, Ludlow, Thomasboro, St. Malachy’s and Rantoul City Schools.  The majority of the students are taught at the main campus, but the district also has an alternative education program that services 35 full time students and 15- 20 part time students.  Thirty-five percent of the students qualify for some sort of special education services. There are 60 teachers on staff in the district, two deans, two principals, one for the general population and another for the special education and alternative education population, and a superintendent. The school has struggled over the past several years to meet AYP, both in graduation rates and adequate progress in academics.  Several changes have been, and are being made to increase the school’s performance in these areas.  The alternative school, early testing and assessment, and an all around effort by the staff to increase the students’ achievement are all ongoing projects.

The focus of this study is the main campus, where technology use is often hampered by the availability of computers.  The building has two open computer labs, with 20-25 networked computers in each. They are used by a variety of teachers and their classes.  The industrial technology department has an auto-cad lab with 18 networked computers, and the school also has two business labs with 30 networked computers in each.  Each teacher has a networked computer in his or her room.  Six teachers have 5 computers in their rooms for students’ use. The Media Studies class uses the computers for work on the school’s newspaper and yearbook.  Two others are dedicated special ed classrooms where the teachers use the computers to facilitate special programs for the students. The other mini labs are in special ed resource rooms and are generally used for specialized uses and delivery of educational programs. Each faculty and staff member and student has a network ID and password and can access their own saved files on the network.  All computers have internet access.  The building is sprinkled with LED projectors and screens, several teachers use computer to TV broadcast through means of Averkeys, and the business department lab is the owner of the school’s sole Smart Board.  The school board agreed to hire a computer technician in the spring of 2008, so many of the computer and network problems faced by the staff before have been resolved in a more timely fashion. The school doesn’t have a technology coordinator per se, or a person who is on staff to assist teachers in using technology in their teaching.   In a recent staff survey, the main complaint with technology use was the lack of available time to take students to the computer labs to do research or projects.   

The administration is very supportive of those teachers who are using technology in their classrooms and is willing to pay for training and software requested by individual teachers.  There is a feeling though, that because of the substandard test scores and the failure to meet AYP, that the major interest of administration is on improving ACT and PSAE scores. 

The technology use by teachers greatly varies from room to room. Some teachers have made the effort to use technology on a daily basis in their classrooms.  Mary Anne Ross, an English teacher delivers almost all of her lectures with the aid of Power Point.  Her speech students use Power Point as visual aids for many of their speeches, and she also uses a digital video camera to film her advanced public speaking class’ public service announcements which are then shown on the school’s big screen during lunch hours and can be found on the school’s web site.  Laura Gowler, science department chair, has done much to promote technology use in her department.  Teachers can be seen using LED projectors for Power Point presentations, broadcasting virtual labs, and using Teacher Tube and other web based videos to enhance their daily lessons.  They also use  a variety of Webquests. Jared Lofrano in the social studies department admits that his department may be slightly behind in incorporating technology into their curriculum, but the recent purchase of an LED projector on a mobile cart promises to increase their use in the classroom.  The math department, with Brad Heller at the lead, has incorporated The Geometer’s Sketch Pad into their curriculum. The teachers   are learning more and more ways to use the program.  Rantoul’s physical education program has had a recent makeover and has added several Wii Fit gaming consoles to their programs.  The industrial technology lab, equipped with an  auto-cad lab also uses a variety of software for their horticulture, landscape, and house design programs. Access to technology seems to be much more of a problem for the teachers and students at Rantoul High School than the desire to use it. The two open labs must be scheduled ahead of time for use and the schedule fills fast, often leaving teachers without a lab when they would like to use it. The district is hampered by not only financial constraints for a new lab, there is just no room, so a new or expanded lab is not in the future plans of the school. With additional funding, mobile computer labs could be added to each department, making access much better.


 A tour of Rantoul High School seems to reveal a school on the verge of being technologically ready for the future, despite the fact that there are many teachers still not using technology daily in their classrooms.  At this point in time, the future seems to lie in the creation of a teacher led technology team. The team promises to spread more use throughout the staff.  Laura Gowler is one of the teachers leading the group. She is a 2007 graduate of the  CTER program at the University of Illinois. Margie Hay- Ashcraft, the other team leader, expects to graduate in December of 2008. They feel the experience they have gained in the CTER program will benefit the entire staff at RTHS. The group meets once a month during the school’s regularly scheduled professional development time.  The purpose of the team is to introduce a variety of programs that can be easily implemented into any classroom.  The first meeting consisted of introducing Power Point, WebQuests, Teacher Tube, and other online resources. The teachers who have joined the group come from a variety of departments and teaching backgrounds.  Martha Wolfe, an art teacher, has been teaching for 20 years but has never used any technology in her classroom except for a TV and VCR.  She was thrilled when the group did a search for “Art and Power Point presentations” and found 12 FREE power points, covering several topics that she could use in her classes without even creating a presentation of her own!  Pete’s Power Point Station and The World of Teaching are excellent sources of free presentations for almost every subject and every age group.  The teachers have also began creating WebQuests at Zunal, Teacher Web and Webquest.org.  Peer teaching and learning is an excellent way to bring the staff together to share knowledge and experience.


In order to prepare the students of Rantoul Township High School for the state and federally mandated testing of No Child Left Behind, many forms of technology could be used. From software programs to free materials found on the internet, there are many ways for schools like Rantoul to increase achievement.  One area where Rantoul is making great improvements is its current program for student information, attendance, and grades.  Skyward allows administrators to send mass emails or make phone calls with one touch to all parents and guardians in the district.  Parents and students can access attendance, discipline and financial records, as well as grades, homework and staff email.  According to research, family access to the school, and communication with the staff is an excellent way to increase performance because it provides families with a perfect way to stay in touch and connected with school.  In a study done by Lynette R. Doering-Jackson, Dr. Dwain M. Estes, Mrs. Tammy L. Gathright, and Dr. Bobby Templeton  and reported in, “21ST Century Technology Solutions to Meet the Requirements of NCLB: Using Technology to Increase Communication with Parents” , students whose families have open access to the school have increased attendance, fewer discipline problems and higher levels of achievement. The internet, says the authors, gives families the perfect opportunity to have this contact.  They report that in 2004 over 67% of adults had internet access at home, and, according to WebSite Optimization.com  that number has climbed to over 75% in 2008. The study also states that, “that two-thirds of all working mothers, which accounts for over 70% of school-age children, access the internet while at work”, implying that it would be very easy for them to access their children’s records daily.  The advantage is that parents know on  daily or weekly basis how their children are performing and can deal with any problems that arise much more quickly than waiting for progress reports or report cards to be mailed home.  Teachers and school staff also become more accountable for communicating  with parents and keeping their grades up to date on the internet grade reports.  This electronic communication is also more cost effective in the long run than traditional paper mailings, and according to the report, much more reliable (Doering-Jackson,et al).


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