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Administrators follow the librarian's lead, from managing schedules to in-class assessments: Pennsylvania district is big on small handheld experimentation.

SCHOOL LIBRARIANS ALWAYS SERVED as a resource for good ideas and ways to gather useful information. In the West Shore School District (New Cumberland, PA), Library Department Head Susan Kell has taken her job description to a new level.

For the past two years, Kell has been helping administrators--the district serves about 8,200 students at 16 schools--to expand usage of palmOne handhelds. These administrators now use their handheld computers for a host of activities, from managing their daily schedules to observing teachers in the classroom.

"We each seem to have pet projects here, and this ended up being one of my mine," explains Kell. "Part of what I do is figure out how our administrators can use handheld computers to work smarter."

palmOne handhelds are not new to Kell. For the past five years she has used a handheld with Symbol Library, which includes a bar code scanner and works with the district's Spectrum software program to automate library records. Kell became interested in the possibilities of the handheld computers for her district's administrators at NECC 2003 in Seattle, where she went to a palmOne literacy training session.

Since then, Kell has served as both a palmOne coach and innovator for a growing number of West Shore administrators. Among her innovations, she's taken the Filemaker Pro program used for teacher observations and yearend evaluations, and in consultation with several administrators, has created a mobile version that fits the handheld computer.

"There's a set of 'checklist' items with which they rate each teacher they observe," says Kell, "and those are the fields I transferred over, including the comment fields, which allow them to create a transcript of what's happening in the classroom. They've been very pleased with it."

One satisfied customer is Jo Beth Novosel, the district's director of elementary education, who supervises 10 elementary schools and almost 400 teachers.

"At the beginning, I used my handheld mainly for appointments and note taking with Graffiti," she recalls. "The palmOne handheld was so easy and accessible, and I wanted to know more."

So she upgraded to a palmOne Tungsten T3 and began collaborating with Susan Kell. Novosel says her handheld and Kell's translation of the teacher evaluation program have made her travels a lot easier.

"I have a laptop PC that sits on my desk like a cement block," she says. "It's heavy, it's an odd size, and it's temperamental on top of that. As I went to observe teachers or went to meetings outside of the building, I would have to drag this monster with me."

Since doing her first teacher observation with her handheld and its keyboard, Novosel has not looked back. "It was love at first sight," she recalls. "Because of the size difference, I'm more portable. I have the ability to go into the classroom and set up wherever I choose. In the past, I'd need to be sitting somewhere where I had enough room and still not interfere with learning."

Novosel points out that her laptop took extra minutes to start up each time and made distracting noises along the way. "With my handheld computer, I just open it up, and--bingo!--within a few seconds, I'm right where I need to start. And with the keyboard, I can type as if I were at my computer.

"It's just allowed me to be so much more organized and efficient. I bring it back here to the office and sync with my computer. I can't even tell you how many steps it saves, from starting the observation to handing it to the teacher."

Using the handheld for teacher evaluations has also made life easier under the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), says Kell, especially when it comes to determining--and documenting--whether teachers meet the "highly qualified" designation.

"That is something that administrators need to watch carefully at this point," she says "because we're all under the gun for testing and being held accountable for what students learn." A big part of that process, she adds, is effectively recording what's going on in classrooms.

Says Novosel, "You could very easily make the connection between a highly qualified teacher--or a not highly qualified teacher--with this kind of monitoring in the classroom. And the handheld computer allows a director, principal, or supervisor to be more mobile with a lot less prep time."

NOVOSEL HASN'T BEEN SHY about spreading the word to other administrators. "As soon as I walked out of the classroom that first time, I was telling anybody that would listen to me how much better it was. I went to the principal and asked, 'Can you believe that I just did an observation, and this is all that I had to take in there?'"

Kell has seen the use of palmOne handhelds spread across the administrative ranks as a result. "Jo Beth is in charge of 10 elementary principals," Kell notes. "She's a big user of technology and models the use of it very well, and some of those principals are starting to increase their handheld usage by watching what she does."

With Kell's help, Holly Sayre, an assistant principal at Redland High School, has just started using her palmOne Tungsten C for classroom observations. "There are some times when we go in informally and only do 15 or 20 minutes," Sayre reports. "In my mind the handheld computer is ideal for that short of situation. It's nonintrusive and it's easy to carry."

But Sayre has been taking advantage of the handheld computer's portability --both on campus and off--for almost two years. "In my travels, either in the building or outside of it, if I have my handheld I can just punch something in," she says. "Let's say I'm sitting outside an office: I can maximize my time. With Documents to Go, I can jot down a letter or create other documents. If I go to a conference somewhere and meet a contact who also has a palmOne handheld, we can beam our addresses to each other."

Sayre says she particularly likes her calendar application, including the alarm feature which alerts her to coming appointments. "I just live by the Datebook," she says. "It keeps my whole day organized because there are a lot of different meetings and a lot of different places that I need to be at certain times. It's really easy to update and I can sync my handheld with my computer and print my schedule for my secretary, which is really nice.

"I use a lot less paper now," Sayre continues. "I'm the kind of person for whom it's really important to document everything as far as my contacts with people. If I talk with a student or parent, I'm always writing things down on paper. Everything is in my handheld computer, and it just makes life a lot easier."

Jean Dyszel, West Shore's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, has been using her palmOne Tungsten T3 for the past year. "I've been in education for about 35 years and I thought it really was time I moved into 21st-century technology," she quips.

"We're a strong technology school district, and I believe that as administrators we need to model our philosophy in how we ought to be operating in technology."

Dyszel also appreciates the practical benefits of using her palmOne T3. "I have something with me, wherever I am. That was the draw for me rather than carrying around my large planning book.

That's where I started, and then I realized that with the portable keyboard, the handheld becomes a laptop on the go. For teacher observations, rather than unplugging my laptop from the dock in my office, it was a whole lot simpler to pull out the portable keyboard and the palmOne handheld computer and tuck it in my pocketbook. It's more convenient, it's more compact, and away I go. It's an awesome piece of equipment and it's worked beautifully. You can come back and you can sync to your machine and do as you've always done."

RIGHT NOW, Dyszel notes, the district is using its handhelds mainly as management tools, but she envisions an expanding role in the classroom.

"From the instructional end, I can see reading specialists having them as they are doing their assessments of children and quickly recording what they are seeing. That's probably more important than the management side of what we do. We want to impact children and instruction in a positive way."

And the ideas for using handheld computers keep coming. Susan Kell has helped administrators use their handhelds to take photographs. "If there's any kind of an incident in the building or outside," she says, "you have your handheld and you can record what's going on."

Recently Kell offered Jo Beth Novosel this suggestion: "Jo Beth goes to a lot of meetings, and I said to her, 'Have you thought about using Acrobat Mobile to take some of the PDF reports that you have and use them on your handheld at meetings?" Since West Shore's schools are set up for wireless, Kell is also aiming to add email access to administrators' handheld computers.

As part of her doctoral work at Widener University, she also is planning to study how handhelds could be used for the primary grades. "I've been observing what our little ones do with laptops," she says. "Although they can do very well with them, it's much easier for youngsters to tap something on a handheld screen--an icon or a letter-than to handle a large keyboard and a laptop that they have to log onto."

Kell will be studying other districts, where the use of handhelds for students is widespread. It's research that she says could benefit her own district, particularly with Title 1 students, for whom there is already a summer program to reinforce learning skills.

"My ultimate goal would be to give kids handhelds that they could take home over the summer and that would have preloaded eBooks on the reading level that the child needs now, and on the level we're hoping he will attain over the summer." she says.

The youngsters would be able to tap on new words they encounter and hear them pronounced, and Kell is searching for the enabling software.

"I think they're going to find a lot of other stuff they want to do as we brainstorm possible uses for our palmOne handhelds," she concludes. "They're powerful tools. They really are."
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Author:Schachter, Ron
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1U2PA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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