Updated March 30 at 6:25pm

Five Questions With: Katie Miller and John Bilotta

President and executive director of the Rhode Island Society of Technology Educators talk about the group, which has more than 100 members, nearly all from public school districts in Rhode Island.

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Five Questions With: Katie Miller and John Bilotta


Katie Miller is the technology director for Barrington Public Schools. John Bilotta recently retired as technology director for the South Kingstown School Department and now works as a consultant.

In addition to their day jobs, Miller serves as the president of the Rhode Island Society of Technology Educators, while Bilotta as the executive director.

The society, which began as an informal group about 10 years ago for collaborative software purchases, now has more than 100 members from nearly all public school districts in Rhode Island, and some private and charter schools.

PBN: What’s the biggest technology challenge for K-12 schools nowadays?

Miller: There is, in education, clearly an emerging consensus that technology is an increasingly important force in meeting the needs of learners in the 21st century. The biggest technology challenge for K-12 schools today is providing the leadership necessary to move forward with fully embracing this potential. The National Education Technology Plan 2010 calls for revolutionary transformation rather than evolutionary tinkering and urges our education system at all levels to:

  • Be clear about the outcomes we seek.

  • Collaborate to redesign structures and processes for effectiveness, efficiency, and flexibility.

  • Continually monitor and measure our performance.

  • Hold ourselves accountable for progress and results at every step of the way.

    The society goes on to encourage leveraging technology to provide engaging and powerful learning experiences and content, as well as resources and assessments that measure student achievement in more complete, authentic, and meaningful ways.

    It’s a tall order! Technology is everywhere and it’s likely that most of the tools necessary to answer the call for revolutionary transformation are available today. What’s not so clear is how to move forward rapidly with putting these available tools to work. We’ve been somewhat stuck in the mode of evolutionary tinkering. Most districts/schools have a technology plan that maps out a set of lofty goals and associated action plans. The funding necessary to support those goals is usually identified as well. Unmet objectives are often attributed to lack of funding and, with minimum commitment, evolutionary tinkering occurs.

    PBN: Tell us a little bit about the society’s mission and activities.

    BILOTTA: The society’s mission is to promote excellence in education through the integration of existing and emerging technologies. We are a not-for-profit, tax-exempt association whose purpose is to promote educational technology in Rhode Island K-12 schools. RISTE is dedicated to the improvement of education in Rhode Island through the use of technology.

    Our primary membership consists of public K-12 schools district, private-independent K-12 schools and religious K-12 schools. The membership meets regularly to discuss business matters, educational practice, and technology. We organize vendor presentations, guest speakers, and member best practice sharing sessions.

    The scoiety is an affiliate of the International Society of Technology Educators (ISTE) which sets widely accepted technology standards for global learning in the digital age for Students, Teachers, and Administrators.

    RISTE provides leadership, support and training for K-12 educational technology leaders around those standards.

    PBN: I understand that you’re working in an advisory capacity to the state Department of Education to get local schools prepped for the broader data requirements for the Race to the Top funding.

    MILLER: The award of the $75 million Race to the Top (RTTT) grant in 2010 presents an incredible opportunity for the state and districts to pool resources and work together to develop tools to help every school, teacher and student in Rhode Island. It’s a tall order and not commonly understood that more than 50 percent of the grant is for a targeted one-time investment in the design and development of systems of support. …

    As an example, we can look at one of the five systems of support – the Instructional Management System. The system is targeted to provide a systematic, coherent and ongoing combination of curriculum (including standards), instruction and assessment to support student achievement. The system will:

  • Align curriculum, instruction and assessments to support student achievement.

  • Manage and access curricular, instructional, professional development and student support materials.

  • Access relevant and timely visual reporting of assessment and other data (“dashboards”) for immediate student, class, school and district needs.

  • Query data to determine areas of student strengths and needs while being able to track student progress so that learning gaps do not form or widen.

    PBN: Can you explain the e-rate bandwidth purchasing and the society’s involvement?

    MILLER: I think it’s safe to say that virtually anyone who has been involved with E-Rate would find it difficult to discuss it in layman’s terms but I’ll give it a try. The program was established in 1998 and designed to provide affordable telecommunications and Internet access services to connect schools and libraries. Eligibility to participate was, and still is, based on federal free and reduced lunch status. Discounts on basic telecommunication are pursued independently by eligible entities. In Rhode Island, a statewide consortium bid for connectivity and Internet access was established in the first year and continues to be a tremendous asset. During the early years, the connectivity and Internet portion of the program was considered sort of an educational value-add. Over time it has transitioned into a vital aspect of our core business in education. RISTE has, throughout the timeline, been a strong advocate for increasing bandwidth to RI schools and libraries.

    In 2003, the General Assembly enacted the Rhode Island Telecommunications

    Education Access Fund (RITEAF) to provide a funding mechanism for basic Internet connectivity for qualified schools (K-12) and libraries. Here’s where a little complexity is unavoidable. The RITEAF fund is used in the consortium bid to leverage discounts on high speed circuits connecting schools within a district and libraries. Each year, circuits within the allowable pool created by RITEAF and the E-Rate discounts are distributed based on availability and requests. A second consortium bid is issued for Internet connectivity and participating entities can purchase discounted bandwidth through E-Rate using this mechanism.

    Over time, demand for bandwidth has dramatically increased. In my district for example, increased bandwidth has allowed us to take more than 20 servers supporting email, web services, and a variety of other critical applications and migrate them to two physical servers. By purchasing these two high-end servers and a very large storage appliance, we have been able to centralize operations and realize the benefits of decreased hardware and energy costs, expanded options for management/support, redundancy while experiencing no reduction in functionality. It’s not enough. We are also interested in expanding the efficiencies of virtualization to our deployed desktops as a way to address rapidly increasing technology needs in support of key learning objectives.

    PBN: Finally, what the society’s goals?

    BILOTTA: It is essential for RISTE to develop and maintain a close connection with the educators in our Rhode Island schools. Our mission is to support and promote education through the use of technology. RISTE supports the schools and educators in planning for technology, implementing technology, and professional development. Looking forward, we would like to develop closer relationships with other educator groups in the state to provide more technology professional development opportunities.

  • Comments

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    Isn't it true that RI Schools do NOT have standards for technology teachers? We have many excellent people teaching technology to our children, but their primary teaching skills are certified in areas other than technology. I believe if we survey the many school districts in RI we'll find that the school administration seeks out teachers in their systems that have an interest in technology and/or have taken some technical courses to expand their computer skills, but that the skilled staff that support computers in our schools are paid staff experts that normally do not teach. Maybe RISTE can assist RIDE with getting technology recognized as a field where teachers are certified and continue to update their technology skills in order to keep up with the constant advances in the field. We may still be teaching keyboarding, MS office and Internet skills when we could be teaching programming and database management to challenge the highly technical skills students have over their current teachers.

    Wednesday, November 23, 2011 | Report this

    I agree with Stephen's comment. In some schools Physical Education teachers double as the "Computer" teacher with no formal education or training in information science.

    We should spend about as much time teaching MS Word as we do teaching how to use a pencil or a telephone. No student needs to sit through class to learn the "parts of a computer" any more than we teach kids the "parts of a diesel engine". I never sat through a class on "cars" when I was in elementary school.

    Schools shouldn't teach "computers", instead teach logic and "information science" through software such as LOGO, Scratch and other tools.

    Also, schools need to wake up to Bring Your Own Device. My son is 7 and wants an Android phone but his school policy prohibits cell phones. Schools struggle to provide PCs that go obsolete in less than 5 years and yet prohibit students from bringing iPads and smart phones.

    One excuse is that schools can not adequately police personal devices. That excuse is akin to prohibiting personal pens because it would be impossible to control graffiti.

    Katie Miller is right, schools need revolutionary changes in the way information technology is used and taught.

    Wednesday, November 23, 2011 | Report this
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