Digitally Wise parents plan to voice frustrations with Shawnee Mission’s technology task force

For five months, a group of 30 Shawnee Mission School District administrators, teachers, parents and students worked behind closed doors on a review of the use of technology in the classroom — a subject that has gained increased prominence five years and $50 million in to the district’s 1:1 technology initiative, which provides an iPad or Macbook to every student.

Then, earlier this month, the group quietly wrapped up its work, and the administrators leading the group posted a final report to the district’s website — a report that was long on general advisory statements but short on detailed action recommendations about how to address problem areas like access to inappropriate content or excessive screen time.

On July 12, Superintendent Mike Fulton sent an email to district staff and the board letting them know the report had been posted, but no communications went out to district parents. Moreover, the administration decided against including a public presentation about the group’s work and its findings at a board meeting.

Tonight, representatives of the group of district parents who urged the board and administration to take a critical look at implementation of Shawnee Mission’s 1:1 technology initiative last November are preparing to show up in force again to express their frustrations with the Digital Learning Task Force’s work and the lack of communication about its findings.

“If the Digital Learning Task Force is the model of a ‘Superintendent Advisory Group,’ district patrons should be very concerned,” said Gretchen Shanahan and Erica Frans, two members of the Digitally Wise parent group who spoke to the board last fall and who were subsequently added to the task force, in a statement to the Shawnee Mission Post. “DLTF advisory statements were drafted in closed-door meetings, without consideration of student performance data, patron surveys, a review of existing data usage and guidelines, or well-sourced research. DLTF policy recommendations were then published on the district website without notice to stakeholders, without public comment and without a formal vote by the board. While we respect the work of our fellow task force members, we strongly object to this method of policy making. The ‘advisory” process violates the both the current Strategic Plan (requiring ‘input, data, and research throughout the planning process’), and basic tenets of open government.”

Shanahan and Frans have been outspoken about their concerns with the make up of the task force and of the process for some time, saying their early requests to look at how classroom performance has fared since implementation of the 1:1 initiative, for example, were sidelined.

Asked whether the board of education was comfortable with there being no public presentation on the findings of the task force, Board President Brad Stratton and Vice President Heather Ousley submitted the following statement:

As members of the board, we have been updated periodically on the process that Dr. Fulton has initiated in gathering patron input around digital learning, through the establishment of the Digital Learning Task Force (DLTF), in his role as Superintendent. These updates have come from summaries of the meetings, which were provided to the public, as well as from brief updates on the process from Dr. Fulton.

Several months ago, the board adopted definitions and parameters in board policy BBC for the various board and district advisory groups, task forces and committees. Included in that policy is the definition and function of a “Superintendent Advisory Group,” which is what the DLTF was. (Full definition of Superintendent Advisory Group is below).

Superintendent advisory groups, as opposed to District or Board committees and task forces, are assembled by Dr. Fulton to provide him input on his work as our superintendent. Other advisory groups which have been assembled include a parent advisory group and an educator advisory group, and he has plans to start a student advisory group in the upcoming school year.

As board members, the expectation for the DLTF was that the assembled participants would have the opportunity to fully express their opinions and experiences in the privacy of the advisory group, without fear of public judgment or retribution either from peers, the community or those with direct authority. The board assumed that specific details from the meetings would not go beyond the discussions of the 30-member advisory group, except in the form of aggregate observations, and that the written report would serve as the foundation for Dr. Fulton to begin addressing themes identified by the group. With that in mind, if Dr. Fulton chooses to provide an update to the Board, we are happy to hear his report, and patron input is always welcome.

Here’s the definition of the Superintendent Advisory Group Stratton and Ousley referenced above:

The superintendent shall appoint Advisory Groups on subject matters important to the District and the work of the superintendent. Superintendent Advisory Groups shall serve in an advisory capacity to the superintendent.

Superintendent Advisory Groups shall be temporary or permanent advisory group(s) that are established, defined, appointed and led by the superintendent.

Superintendent Advisory Groups may be comprised of school district representatives and community members based on the subject matter of the advisory group. Board members may be invited to attend Superintendent Advisory Group meetings as guests.