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Falling in love with handhelds, from the top down: Maine school district becomes the first to provide its school board members with Palm handheld computers. .

When Superintendent Rich Abramson starts one of his school board meetings, the members carefully position their Palm handhelds on the table in front of them.

"They know about my personal interest in handheld technology, and they want to keep on my good side," remarks Abramson. "I've even shared some of my games with them. I tell them that if they're using their Palm handhelds at a meeting and they're smiling, I'll assume they're playing games and I may call on them."

Besides having a sense of humor, this administrative leader for Maranacook Area Schools in Maine has a vision. Abramson has taken handheld technology for administrative use into new territory: the district's six school boards.

Extending Technology's Reach

When Abramson arrived in last fall at this rural K-12 district covering 100 square miles, he found they were fairly advanced when it came to technology integration. He also discovered that its school boards operated semi-autonomously, so he began to think about ways to extend the district's technology reach to board members in order to enhance communication and collaboration.

"Palm encourages educators to find innovative ways to use handheld technology," says Abramson. "I'd been a Palm handheld user myself for two-and-a-half years, and I thought if I could get a handheld for each school board member and school principal, then we could improve how everyone works together and communicates."

He also says he believed that with the handhelds, board members could make better use of their time and resources by beaming notes, minutes, events and documents, and keeping track of appointments. School principals would work more closely with the boards and manage the handheld project for their school community.

Jumping on Board

School board members responded enthusiastically to his ideas. By spring 2002, all principals and board members had Palm handhelds and had gone through a training session by Palm Education Training Coordinator Deb Pluck (www.palm.com/education/training/).

Each principal is now responsible for finding new ways to use the handhelds and sharing those ideas with board members at their monthly meetings. Further, at the district level they've created a grid with school-board functions and activities along with ideas for hardware and software that can be used with Palm handhelds to meet each area of need.

For instance, the Palm Memo Pad or DataViz's Word To Go can handle school agendas as well as minutes for school board and committee meetings. Similarly, school budgets can be created and maintained with Sheet To Go, which reads Excel spreadsheets. Maranacook Area Schools' principals now routinely beam board members To Do lists, and have encouraged everyone to use the handhelds to take notes at meetings and to keep track of important dates.

Abramson also made Palm handhelds available to the rest of his administrative staff, including the associate superintendent, adult education director, business manager and special education director. Along with school principals, they all use their handhelds at Abramson's bi-weekly meetings, and continue to look for ways to share and beam information.

During the summer, board members and administrators went on a retreat to receive more in-depth training with Pluck. In July two administrators attended edVentures in Technology put on by inResonance at Walker Creek in California. This professional development "summer camp" attracts educators from around the country who go to explore the latest in technology, including handheld computing. Upon their return, these two began to serve as a resource for others in the district. They make sure that staff members are being trained and continue to find creative ways to use the handhelds.

This fall, Abramson is presenting their handheld effort to other districts across Maine, showing what he and his staff and the six school boards have been able to accomplish in a short period of time. He also plans to share his findings at the state and national superintendent associations meetings.

Handhelds Build a Stronger Team

"Everyone has just fallen in love with the Palm handhelds," says Abramson. "We're thrilled with our implementation and believe we may be the only district where all of the school board members are using handheld technology. By including Deb Pluck in the training and having each principal using a handheld as well, we feel we now have a very efficient organization."

One of the major advantages he's found is that everyone is able to keep track of information without being bogged down with a ton of paper and folders. Copies of agendas, minutes, budgets and calendars of events can all be provided electronically.

"I can do a superintendent's report and beam it to a couple of board members who then beam it to others," Abramson explains. "It's more cost effective since we save on paper, copier costs and postage. We do have to be careful, though. School board business needs to open to the public, so we still provide paper copies for anyone who wants agenda and budget information."

Another big plus is that the principals and board members are becoming a stronger team. Principals are thrilled that they can type minutes for committee meetings with their Palm handhelds and a Palm keyboard, and then beam them to board members. Everyone is sharing information. Before, the superintendent was the only one sending out information to school boards.

"This implementation piggybacks nicely with other technology initiatives going on in the district and at the state level for Maine," says Abramson. "Gov. Angus King has been steadfast in his support of technology to enhance teaching and learning.

Gina Adams Palmer, ginapalmer@mac.com, is a freelance writer focusing on education and technology. She is based in San Jose, Calif.
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Author:Palmer, Gina Adams
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1U1ME
Date:Nov 1, 2002
Words:933
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