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placeholder  January 21, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA

Executives from Hitachi Japan and Hitachi America visit the fifth-grade classroom at the School of the Madeleine in Berkeley.
Courtesy photo

Business partnerships further mission
at Berkeley school

When the School of the Madeleine celebrated its 75th anniversary last year, a Mass and gala dinner brought graduates spanning three generations back to school to give thanks and reminisce.

The Old Testament reading was proclaimed by Earl Jacobs, Class of 1941, and his grandson, Nolan Jacobs-Walker, Class of 2012.

The hallways of the school were decorated with exhibits of eight decades of photos and artifacts, as graduates shared stories of their education, guided largely by the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose.

And while the school community looks back at its past with gratitude and fond memories, there is great excitement about its future.

Playing a major role in the future of the Berkeley school is the series of partnerships Principal Kenneth Willers has nurtured with technology companies to put the tools for 21st-century learners in his students' hands.

But even as he outlines plans to convert 1930s-era classrooms with cloakrooms to 21st-century learning spaces, Willers is quick to point out that technology alone is not the answer.

"For me, it's never been about money," It's about vision. People will invest in your vision if they believe in it," Willers said.

By nurturing relationships with longtime partner Apple Inc., and newer partner Hitachi, Willers is able to provide the teachers and students with tools that promote success in the classroom.

Willers' own relationship with technology at the Madeleine dates to 1994, when he came to the school as a teacher. He was serving as technology teacher and vice principal when he left in 2001 to become principal of St. John School in San Francisco.

When he returned to the Madeleine in fall 2010, he found some of the technology he had purchased for the school more than a decade earlier.

It was time to go. Because of planning, the funds to replace the technology were available.

"To be successful with technology in education, it has to be part of your budget," he said. "I'm really grateful that in my first years here, 20 years ago the board and finance committee were wise to say, 'Let's commit so much money to the budget for technology.'"

The school's most recent addition of Hitachi's Starboard technology — which provides the teacher the ability to project onto a whiteboard from a laptop, television or iPad — is the result of the kind of partnerships Willers has forged.

"In my previous school, I came across Hitachi when I was at a convention and they were showcasing the Starboard," Willers said. "I asked a lot of questions, kept going back over a three-day period, showing what I was doing, and what my vision was."

The main question — How do we integrate this interactive whiteboard with the products we were already using with the students? — was answered when he came back to the Madeleine.

The school has re-imagined all its instructional spaces to integrate interactive whiteboard technology with classroom computers, laptops, document readers, wireless network and student iPad's enhanced by AppleTV's cordless mirroring capability into one seamless portal of connectivity, Willers said.

Hitachi Japan and Hitachi America representatives visited the school last fall to see the technology in action, Willers said.

The executives embarked on an hour-long whirlwind tour of all the learning spaces to see their technology in action. The school's fifth-graders, led by teacher Joseph Nagel, were particularly impressive, "He put on an entirely interactive lesson," Willers said.

Vice Principal Conan Graham hosted the visitors, who were, in the tradition of business meetings with Japanese executives, given small gifts. Hitachi, in return, gave the school an additional Starboard.

Most of the partnerships don't result in receiving gifts of equipment, Willers said, but there is immense value in the consultation provided by the partners.

When, for example, Apple engineers come to the school to evaluate how the school is using its technology, "that's expertise I can't buy," Willers said.

Willers offers the partners a chance not only to see how their technology works in the real world, but the knowledge that as a leader in technology in schools, other schools will learn of its value.

For Madeleine students, iPad is the technology they get their hands on. There is a set of 18 iPads in each learning space.

"The limitation for elementary education is the textbooks are just not there yet," said Willers. The creation of digital content for elementary school students, however, is on his radar.

Some of the curriculum for the school's older students is available on the iPad.

"As a junior high student, they do all their assignments on the iPad," Willers said. Eighth-grade algebra and religion are completely on the iPad, while some literature and social studies work is available there as well.

"Every junior high student has an iPad," Willers said. "They're their device to use at all times. They take them home."

With the device comes an acceptable use policy that students and parents sign, but Willers said there haven't been many major problems.

Familiarity with the products may play a part in that. "These devices are in almost every household for our families, so they're very familiar on how to use them."

But when there was a more-than-acceptable misuse, Willers had a solution: "The student came in. I took the iPad away. I wrote on a piece of paper "iPaper" and gave him a pencil. 'Here's your new technology.'"

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