Located in California's Salinas Valley, Frank Paul Elementary School is bounded by open fields on one side and recently built residential housing on the other. The school serves 856 students in grades K-6. The children come from low-income families, many with parents who are migrant farm workers. According to the school's recent self-study, about half of the students arrive from Mexico with little or no formal education. Spanish is the primary language for 95% of the school's students, and 64% have limited proficiency in English. One-third of the students qualify for migrant education services. The classrooms are housed in multiple buildings of the "indefinite temporary" variety. Notices and posters appear in English and Spanish. In 1992 and 1993, 100% of the students qualified for free or reduced lunch. Ninety-five percent of the students are Hispanic; 2% are Asian/Pacific Islander; 2% are Caucasian, Non-Hispanic; 1% are African American; and <1% are Native American. It is estimated that less than 1% of the students have computers at home. Thirty-one teachers and 4 resource teachers serve on the faculty.
Frank Paul opened in September of 1981 with what the district administrator described as an "enthusiastic corps of teachers" that included teachers "with the ability to take a leadership role." In 1988, Frank Paul was given the opportunity to participate in a Packard Foundation-sponsored science improvement program. The program promoted thematic instruction around science topics. Requirements for participation included having a third of the teachers commit to active participation and the other teachers promise not to undercut the change effort . In subsequent years, more teachers signed on and by 1995, 98% of the teachers were involved.
In 1990, another major impetus for reform came when the district superintendent made contact with the president of Telesis at a Business Roundtable meeting. The Telesis Foundation was looking for school partners for joint educational reform activities. The superintendent encouraged Frank Paul's successful application for funding. The program initially emphasized site-based management and the development of a detailed eight-year plan. State school restructuring planning and implementation grants in 1991 and 1992 gave further support to the school's reform efforts.
Frank Paul's reform plans did not start with the idea that technology was key. It was during the process of developing their proposal for a school restructuring grant that one of the teacher teams set up as part of site-based management began to think about the potential of technology to support hands-on learning and the kind of critical thinking and problem-solving skills they were trying to foster. A resource room teacher who was accustomed to using computer software with special education students became a facilitator and advocate. The school began using grant money to acquire equipment.
Frank Paul is somewhat ahead of the technology use of the other schools in its district, but not dramatically so. The extent of teacher decision making and the way technology is integrated with an overall education reform philosophy is noteworthy, rather than the amount or sophistication of the technology per se.
In a fourth grade class, for example, students worked on a thematic unit on whales and marine life. Working in collaborative groups, students selected five mini-projects or "inquiries" that allowed for independent decision-making over an extended period. Activities included creating maps depicting the migratory patterns of whales and using word processing to support letter writing campaigns to groups such as the International Whaling Commission and Green Peace and to produce research reports. Students used interactive, exploratory software to browse through data cards to gather information on different types of whales, go on simulated whale watches, take "pictures" of whales, listen to whale songs, and track migratory patterns. To the mournful sounds of humpback whales, one group choreographed a whale dance depicting the slow-motion movements of a whale underwater. In this unit, the teacher's role was one of coach--to facilitate collaborative problem-solving, monitor progress, offer feedback and guidance, and orchestrate the use of materials and tools.
In general, Frank Paul's computer resources are allocated to individual classes rather than to a computer lab. More computers are in upper-level classes, but all teachers have access to a mobile Mac lab and multimedia center. Word processing, especially the Learning Company's Bilingual Writing Center, is the most common computer use. Some classes use exploratory software such as SimAnt and math/science software that allows students to manipulate and predict the speed of airplanes and cars.
Professional development in the thematic science curriculum occurs in collaborative planning sessions. The teachers meet monthly with a coach, and teachers support each other--sharing successes, failures, lessons learned, and newly discovered resources.
Limited technical support appears to have been the largest technology implementation problem at Frank Paul. Staff report difficulties in selecting hardware and software, maintaining systems, and lack of time and strategies for teacher training and support in the instructional use of technology. The introduction of take-home portable computers for teachers on the condition that they attend training sessions and use the computers in their classrooms greatly increased the use of technology among teachers in 1994. Now (SY1994-95) network and e-mail facilities have become available, and a school technology mentor devotes a half day a week to helping teachers with technology problems and to assisting integration of technology into the curriculum.
The teachers feel that standardized test scores are not good measures of what they have accomplished with their students. Scores have fluctuated from year to year and grade to grade, ranging between the 35th and 50th percentiles in math and between the 30th and 45th in reading. Although the school's interdisciplinary program is not targeted at improving scores on standardized tests, a drop in scores in 1991-92 was a disappointment, softened by better-than-expected scores in 1992-93. Recent data show that those students who stay with the school for two years or more show growth on state standardized tests. The school is actively involved in developing alternative assessments and supportive of California's performance-based assessments in science. Students' acquisition of technology skills has varied according to the teachers they have had. One teacher said that collaborative technology-enhanced projects have helped student to assess each others' skills (e.g., who is strong in developing ideas, writing, speaking) and learn how to make appropriate task assignments. The project coordinator attributes the high attendance rate at Frank Paul to the whole restructuring effort rather than technology per se.
1300 Rider Avenue
Salinas, CA 93905
Contact: Jackie Munoz
T: (408) 753-5740
F: (408) 753-5268