Pittsburgh School Leaders Honored at The White House for Technology Integration

Three Pittsburgh superintendents were invited to the White House for a summit recognizing schools’ technology integration. The invite probably isn’t a surprise to anyone familiar with the districts’ work.

Superintendents from Avonworth, Elizabeth Forward, and South Fayette school districts were invited to the White House’s ConnectED to the Future summit last Wednesday. They were among 110 superintendents recognized for their schools’ technology integration.

Superintendents Bart Rocco (Elizabeth Forward), Bille Pearce Rondinelli (South Fayette), and Thomas Ralston (Avonworth) at the White House.

The invite probably isn’t a surprise to anyone familiar with the districts’ work. We’ve written before about Elizabeth Forward’s Entertainment Technology Academy and its SMALLLab, where motion capture cameras and sensors let kids act out math and science problems with their bodies. Meanwhile, in the South Fayette Township School District, students are learning the building blocks of computer programming with Scratch. And in Avonworth’s school library, shared by the middle school and high school, students have a permanent maker lab.

But nationally, there’s a struggle to get the majority of schools and homes hooked into fast internet connections—much less integrate meaningful, cutting-edge technology into the curriculum. As President Obama pointed out at the summit, only four of every 10 schools have high-speed internet in their classrooms.

“In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, the least we can do is expect that our schools are properly wired,” Obama said. “We have to bring the world to every child’s fingertips.”

The White House’s multifaceted initiative to narrow this gap, called ConnectEd, aims to connect 99 percent of students to broadband by 2017. It involves funding from the Federal Communications Commission and several unprecedented public-private partnerships from companies like Apple and AT&T.

But that goal can’t be met without superintendents on board, because they’re critical in allocating funding for technology, staff, or new programs. After Obama’s address, the superintendents in attendance joined thousands of others in signing the Future Ready District Pledge, which asks them to prioritize access to high-speed internet and digital devices, as well as support for educators integrating them.

Bart Rocco, Elizabeth Forward School District superintendent, is going even further. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, Rocco is helping the White House by bringing together superintendents throughout the region for a meeting in Pittsburgh next summer where they’ll learn and strategize together. The Obama administration is planning 11 similar meetings in other regions.

“So often school administrations are reacting and following directives from the state or federal government. But we need to be more involved like we were today,” Rocco told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Superintendents can drive this. That’s the power of this movement.”

Of course, superintendents are an important factor in driving change. But any educator knows there’s no magic button for seamless technology integration.

In Pittsburgh, the superintendents who represented their schools at the White House are only three important pieces in a much larger effort to remake learning throughout the city. Here and nationally, integrating technology meaningfully takes a community effort from teachers, parents, principals, librarians, informal learning spaces, and many more.


Published November 24, 2014