It can be difficult to keep pace with technology advances in this fast-evolving world. A world where technology permeates every aspect of our lives. It allows us to communicate across borders, is integrated into most workplace functions, aids in advanced medical procedures and space exploration, and is a major source for news and entertainment. So it should come as no surprise that technology is also heavily integrated into classrooms where educators are preparing students to become our future workforce.

Technology has enhanced instruction and learning in all areas including the four core school subjects– English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. Digital literacy, a blueprint for using technology effectively and appropriately, requires digital tool knowledge, critical thinking skills, and an understanding of expected behavior standards and appropriate social engagement in online environments.

Digital literacy applies to every content area taught in our schools and provides important learning opportunities for students. It can also present a number of challenges including the affordability of appropriate equipment and software, proper training to maximize teaching and learning, and employing experts who can focus on purchasing, maintaining and repairing technology so teachers can focus on teaching and school leaders can focus on all the other important school functions.

To address these challenges, school leaders from six districts throughout the region decided to form a group to undertake an enterprise beyond the resources of any one member -- the Ottawa Area Information Technology Consortium (OAITC). Since July of 2012, the OAITC has helped districts acquire and maintain learning technology enabling school staff to continue what they love doing-teaching students.

By working together, these districts are leveraging buying power, benefiting from group problem-solving and sharing best practices and a dedicated staff of over 30 highly trained information technologists who keep everything running “behind the scenes.”

Superintendent for Holland Public Schools Brian Davis, Ph.D. says his district has acquired invaluable benefits from being a consortium member.

“The OAITC has allowed Holland Public Schools to advance our goal of integrating technology into every school and every classroom to enhance student learning. We simply did not have the capacity to build and sustain the infrastructure of supports and personnel necessary to do this prior to the OAITC,” says Brian.

Timothy Travis, Ph.D. is superintendent for Saugatuck Public Schools, which is also part of the consortium. He really appreciates that the OAITC provides a great forum to discuss tech policy updates from a regional approach and allows him to get feedback from the group to hear what has worked well in the past for other districts.

“There is an intense spirit of cooperation between districts. Through this shared knowledge and discussion we are better able to use taxpayer’s money to positively impact student learning and internet safety,” Tim says. ”These regional best practices have helped the Saugatuck Tech Committee better plan for future needs when thinking about how the district uses technology and the types of technology they should consider.”

While the consortium works together, each district is still able to choose the technology that is best for them, and every district receives the same level of service regardless of size. Though partner districts vary in size from 850 students to nearly 3,500, every district has an equal voice.

“We all support each other,” says Dennis Furton, superintendent of Spring Lake Public Schools. “Each district has the technology that is right for them. There isn’t a mindset where we all need to be using the same platform to make servicing them easier. We all choose what’s best for our students with the full support of the OAITC and each other.”

With a staff of 30 IT specialists serving OAITC, if someone is sick or changes employment, it is seamless to consortium members. Prior to the consortium, many districts didn’t have a technology department with the depth required to adequately support the district. If an IT employee left or was ill and there was a technology issue, there wasn’t anyone to fill in. That is now a non-issue thanks to the depth of the IT employees through OAITC.

“OAITC understands the importance of member district cultures and is focused on maintaining and supporting those cultures. Historically hiring in existing district technology staff and providing opportunities for professional advancement within the OAITC encourages employee retention and allows us to build and maintain relationships within our partner districts.,” adds Michael Rohwer, assistant superintendent for innovation,technology, information, and security for Ottawa Area ISD.

Dave Tebo, superintendent for Hamilton Community Schools, which was one of the first districts to join the consortium, says being a part of the consortium gives them the ability to move technology maintenance concerns into the background and allows them to focus on teaching and learning.

“The OAITC benefits everyone involved, but most importantly the students and their educators by ensuring they are given the best possible scenario to learn,” Michael adds. “We look forward to growing the consortium and providing service and savings to even more districts in the future.”

Participating districts currently include Hamilton Community Schools, Holland Public Schools, Oakridge Public Schools, Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, Saugatuck Public Schools, and Spring Lake Public Schools.

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“The ranch has opened up such creativity for our teachers. We can start to think of different ideas for putting our curriculum into practice. Teachers kind of get to be kids again!” —Danielle Snoeyink, Rose Park Elementary School Teacher

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“Volunteering honors Martin Luther King Jr. because he said anybody can be great because anybody can serve. It show our part by serving the community.” —Evan, GHAPS student

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