Missouri district finds ways to expand student access to technology

Parkway Schools relying on tools including Acer Chromebooks to boost equity

For a top-ranked school district in Missouri, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that district leaders had to find creative ways to accelerate existing technology initiatives and digital equity efforts.

Parkway Schools is one of the largest districts in the St. Louis area, with 17,500 students in 28 schools. The district has received numerous awards including 17 Blue Ribbon Awards from the U.S. Department of Education and 19 Gold Star Awards from the State of Missouri.

Using technology and data effectively
One of the keys to this success has been the district’s effective use of technology, according to Jason Rooks, who has worked in the district for the past 15 years and been CIO for the past seven years.

“We have a very robust technology department for the size of the district, with about 40 employees and IT support in every building,” Rooks says.

In addition, Rooks describes the district as heavily data driven. “We have a strong focus on providing all types of data to our educators to enable them to make the best decisions. We have our own custom data warehouse as well as developers and data administrators on staff.”
Despite doing so much in-house, Rooks says in recent years the district has also looked for any opportunity to move platforms to the cloud. “We utilize Google for Education for student and staff email, and we use other apps including Google Meet and Google Drive heavily.”

Going 1:1 during a pandemic
Parkway had also been transitioning to a 1:1 Chromebook environment over the past several years, beginning at the elementary level so that students would grow up with the devices as they advanced through school.

“When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, we had just two grade levels remaining without Chromebooks,” Rooks says. “We suddenly had to ensure that every student was set up for remote learning, so we were scrambling to find enough devices, but we were able to find about 5,000 unused or unassigned Chromebooks to give to these students.”

“The next fall, we were scrambling again because we wanted to start a new class of elementary students with Chromebooks, and devices were in short supply,” says Rooks. “Fortunately, Acer was able to get us a supply of Chromebooks when we needed them.”

Rooks says that Parkway has been pleased with the partnership. “In the past we worked with another vendor, but the durability of their devices was a big issue, as was support,” he says. “Acer’s devices are higher quality, more reliable and more durable.”

Ramping up digital equity
Similarly, Rooks says the pandemic accelerated the district’s efforts in the area of digital equity. “We had to rapidly identify and provide devices and wi-fi hotspots to students who needed them. We partnered with our counseling department, by helping them expand their vocabulary to make technology equity a topic of their discussions with students. That has helped us identify students in need.”

Looking to a bright future
Rooks says he feels positive about the future of these initiatives. “We will give students the option to keep their Acer Chromebooks after graduation to take with them to college, as part of our emphasis on equity,” he says. “I’m excited for the future and to continue working with Acer, and we look forward to learning how we can use technology even more effectively to benefit students.”

For more information, go to acerforeducation.acer.com

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