A superintendent moves into the edtech world to redesign education.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
With more than 20 years experience as an educator, Robert-Wayne Harris has excelled at building teams and leveraging technology to drive teacher effectiveness and improve student engagement. He has received national recognition for his leadership and ability to bring reform and improvement in student achievement in low-performing school districts. In his recent position as Superintendent at Roosevelt School District (Long Island, NY), Robert-Wayne successfully built a solid infrastructure of technology and professional development services. Prior to that, he was Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, School Improvement, Professional Development and Planning for Freeport Public Schools, where he led the development, planning, and implementation of all curriculum and instructional programs. Before that, he was Associated Director/Educational Planning Administrator for the Long Island Regional School Support Center/Nassau BOCES. Today, as Vice President of Professional Development for Teq, a company that embraces and encourages the integration of technology into the classroom, he has much to say about what that integration means.
Unlike education in the past, which was based for the most part on a factory-model system, today’s schools must be highly interactive, engaging, technology-based learning environments.
Victor: Why did you decide to go into edtech, and leave your job as a superintendent?
Robert-Wayne: After my six-year tenure as Superintendent of Schools at Roosevelt Union Free School District, I had the option to accept another superintendent position or to move in an alternative direction. As a proponent for true educational reform, I began exploring career opportunities that would assist schools with their efforts to increase student achievement through the improvement of pedagogical practices in the classroom.
As a district administrator who had the unique opportunity to create 21st century technology-based learning environments in my schools, I was often concerned about how teachers utilized technology as a tool for learning. Through classroom observations and teacher evaluations, I often found that the technology provided to teachers were not utilized for the benefit of creating interactive learning environments. The SMART Boards, projectors, and other interactive technology provided for our classrooms were often used to inappropriately, and in some cases only to show movies.
Based upon these experiences, I sought to find an employment opportunity that would enable me to support teachers with innovative strategies for classroom instruction in order to provide students with the opportunity to be educated in a classroom environment that reflects the world in which they live. I was extremely excited to accept the position of Vice President of Professional Development at Teq, a company that truly embraces and encourages the integration of technology into the classroom.
Victor: What were some of your biggest successes as a school superintendent?
Robert-Wayne: When I was appointed by the Commissioner of Education as superintendent of one of the most challenged and controversial school districts in New York, I was charged with reforming the educational program, improving academic performance, and restoring the financial stability of the district. At the time, Roosevelt UFSD was facing a deficit of almost $9MM. Academic achievement of students, including the graduation rate, was on the decline.
Under my tenure, the $9MM deficit was eliminated, creating a $21MM budget surplus; the graduation rate grew from 25% to 80%; 3 brand new schools were opened and the high school was renovated; full-day kindergarten was implemented; acceleration and advanced placement programs for middle and high school students were created; career, technology education, performing arts, and athletic programs were expanded; and school uniforms were implemented in grades pre-K to 12.
Victor: What are the biggest challenges for teachers in the classroom today?
Robert-Wayne: One the biggest challenges for teachers in the classroom today, is the need to provide students with a high quality, standards-based, technology-enriched instructional program that prepares them for college and careers, and for jobs that do not actually exist yet. Essential to this process is the need for teachers to be knowledgeable and proficient in the technology that our children will need in order to meet 21st century society expectations.
Victor: How can Teq help teachers?
Robert-Wayne: Teq is an innovative educational technology and professional development company with over forty years of experience in technology integration. Teq’s instructional technology platforms and professional development offerings enable teachers to provide students with innovative classroom instruction and the tools that are essential for their success in a 21st century, technology-literate society. Through hands-on opportunities for learning and classroom-embedded professional development, Teq provides teachers with sophisticated strategies and techniques for the successful integration of technology into their daily classroom instruction.
Victor: Thoughts on education today?
Robert-Wayne: We are all well aware of the immense need to bring reform to our current educational system and instructional practices in schools. Unfortunately, many of the programs and practices in our schools today are antiquated and do not address the needs of a 21st century, technology-literate society. Although valiant efforts have been made to promote change, the strategies that they have been employed and implemented are outdated and band-aid approaches at best.
Instead of examining the educational system as a whole, many tend to blame, attack, and target the quality of teaching and instruction in the classroom as the only key to educational reform. In order to measure and assess school quality and teacher effectiveness, society has chosen to over-test and over-evaluate students in an effort to provide the data or evidence needed to support their assertions. Very little attention is given to outdated practices and perceptions that guide our thoughts and actions about education today.
Victor: What do you envision for today’s classroom and the classroom of the future?
Robert-Wayne: Unlike education in the past, which was based for the most part on a factory-model system, today’s schools must be highly interactive, engaging, technology-based learning environments. Classrooms should no longer be quiet places, but must foster meaningful discussions and hands-on opportunities for communication and collaboration among students. Teachers must now become facilitators of learning, and students actively engaged in learning opportunities.
I firmly believe that our educational system should be redesigned to reflect real world experiences. It seems ironic that many of our school mission statements and school mantras state that, “we are preparing students for the 21st century and to be life-long learners” and/or that “every child must be college and career ready,” yet our practices in schools are still based in the 19th century. Education today must teach our children to explore, investigate, inquire, and research. Students of all ages must be provided with opportunities to learn through technology, and our older students provided with the opportunity to experience online learning.
Victor: What is the role of technology in schools?
Robert-Wayne: We must go beyond the walls of the school and embrace the global society in which we live. I am an avid supporter of technology innovation as a tool for learning and for improving the educational system. I no longer see schools as institutions for learning, but opportunities and preparation for a world we have yet to experience and jobs we have yet to conceive. Today, we have had no other choice but to embrace the influence that technology has on every aspect of our lives. We should no longer ignore the potential of technology and the influence that it could have on improving the way children learn and on reforming educational today.
Victor Rivero is the editor in chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]