When Jeff Snell heard President Barack Obama thank him and the staff for the work they were doing, the Camas School District deputy superintendent had one word to describe it: Surreal.
“It was a privilege to be with and learn from more than 100 educational leaders from across the country,” he said. “We are all working on similar challenges in our service to students and the opportunity to tap into their ideas and share was tremendous.”
Snell participated in Obama’s “ConnectED to the Future,” summit at the White House, which supports the transition to digital learning.
How Snell went from the administration offices at the CSD to the Oval Office began in the spring with a call from Arne Duncan, the federal Department of Education secretary.
“He called CHS teacher Mark Gardner’s classroom to congratulated Mark on his leadership and ask about some of the professional development programs we were utilizing,” Snell said. “From there, the Department of Education asked me to help plan the ConnectED Summit and asked the district to apply.”
Camas was one of three districts in the state of Washington, and the only one in Clark County, to be selected.
During the event, superintendents from across the country brainstormed ideas and shared what they are doing in their districts to connect students with technology and empower teachers to use it in the classroom. Attendees also listened to Obama and Duncan speak about the ConnectED Initiative and the Future Ready Pledge.
Snell shared how in one low-income district in California, school buses were equipped with wi-fi and parked in the neighborhoods, so that families could access the Internet for free.
“There are people out there doing some really innovative things to get the kids connected,” Snell said. “In Camas, we are very fortunate because connectivity isn’t an issue here, although we will continue to engage our stakeholders and see what they need.”
The “Future Ready Pledge” is designed to help school districts develop a culture where teachers use technology to personalize learning and provide quality digital content.
Through the pledge, superintendents and administrators from across the country commit to leading a transition in their districts to innovative teaching using technology.
“You can get whatever device you want, but we need to support our teachers and help them engage the students,” Snell said. “When we look at the pledge, it is a reinforcement of what we are doing and continuing to move in that direction.”
Some of the ways the district supports the initiative is by building a wired and wireless infrastructure that has allowed it to go from zero mobile devices being used in the classroom to 2,300.
“It’s great to have the devices and infrastructure, but we also need to invest in our professional learning,” Snell said.
“Engaging students in learning looks different than it did even a few years ago. It will continue to evolve, which requires an ongoing commitment to professional development.”
He added that since returning from the summit, he’s had follow up conversations with educational leaders from New York to California.
“The connections we make with other districts help us better understand what works in the classroom and what kinds of professional learning models are most effective in supporting our teachers,” Snell said.