Deer Lakes School District superintendent Dr. Janell Logue-Belden announced at the October school board meeting that Deer Lakes has become the 10th school district in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and just the second in Allegheny County to achieve the designation as a Google Reference District.
Google Reference Districts are school districts that Google recognizes as leaders in the use of technology in teaching, including the use of Google’s Chromebook and G Suite for Education.
Similar to G Suite for businesses, G Suite for Education includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Drive, Docs, Forms, Sheets and Google Classroom, a learning management system that allows students to organize and submit their work. It is free to nonprofit K-12 and higher education institutions.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Deer Lakes School District’s assistant superintendent, Bobbi-Ann Barnes, who spearheaded the district’s efforts, emphasized the significance of this recognition.
“It’s worth mentioning that schools cannot apply for this distinction,” said Barnes. “Google is regularly monitoring its schools to see who is consistently engaging with the Google products to make a true impact on our students and then they invite you to become a reference district.”
In addition to receiving recognition for excellence in the use of educational technology, reference districts are listed in Google’s education directory. This allows them to host visits for other school districts that are looking to expand their use of Google technology.
Reference districts also commit to share their expertise in Google tools with their peers at other school districts by hosting local events. Deer Lakes intends to host its first event on Nov. 9, from noon to 3 p.m., when it leads a training session on digital applied skills.
Deer Lakes School District’s shift to Google tools is part of its increasing emphasis on collaboration. Using G Suite, students and teachers create digital files of their work, instantly share them and give each other feedback.
These collaboration tools have changed the way students experience school. Rather than passively sitting in a classroom while their teacher delivers instruction, students are actively working together to learn course material.
“The best part about this initiative is that it completely changes the paradigm,” said Barnes. “No longer are teachers the room’s expert and the fountain of knowledge. Now, they’re more of a facilitator to their students being able to access virtually unlimited knowledge.”
As a result, students aren’t the only ones whose day-to-day experience at school is changing. G Suite is changing the way that teachers experience teaching and professional development.
Deer Lakes’ use of G Suite began in 2017, when the district transitioned from Microsoft to Google products. Before that transition, teachers used different tools to store and share documents, making true collaboration significantly more difficult.
Now that teachers all use one platform, it is common for a teacher to share a lesson plan with colleagues immediately after creating it, which provides more opportunities for teachers to receive feedback and improve their teaching practices.
Teachers also have access to more online and blended learning opportunities.
Starting this school year, all Deer Lakes students have their own personal learning devices and students in grades 4-12 have Google Chromebooks.
This widespread use of technology requires a significant investment in infrastructure. Every classroom now has internet access, and students have regular opportunities to use mobile devices, many of them Chromebooks.
The team that led Deer Lakes’ efforts to gain this special designation will be recognized at the Nov. 20, 2018 school board voting meeting. They include Barnes, middle school library media specialist Christina Beaufort, project-based learning technology coach Meghan Bright, high school biology teacher Michael Hedglin, high school Spanish teacher Kelly Rerko, communications director James Cromie and technology director Justin Merwin.
The other Allegheny County school district designated as a Google Reference District is Baldwin-Whitehall. The other Pennsylvania schools to achieve that distinction include Connellsville Area, Indiana Area, Kiski Area, North Penn, Upper Dublin, Schuylkill, Springfield and Wilmington Area.