In his first visit to one of the elementary schools last year as District 97’s new superintendent, Albert Roberts noticed many things.

One that caught his eye was a TV set strapped to a cart on wheels. He was so struck by the sight that he brought it up at one of his first board meetings. The Oak Park school district, he said candidly, was far behind in a lot of areas, compared to other school districts, with respect to technology. That included teachers having to wait for someone to wheel in the TV cart and VCR in order to watch a video in class.

Roberts, who’s wrapping up his first year on the job, has touted using technology more, but not just for technology’s sake. Teachers and administrators need to utilize technology more effectively.

Though he heard some criticism, the district purchased iPads for administrators, including building principals. Last November, all 10 building administrations attended a school board meeting to report on how they do teacher evaluations. The presentation also included how they utilized their iPads.

“We now have iPads that have enabled my administrators to do a much better job of evaluating teachers because they don’t waste a lot of time in the office recopying things they’ve noticed in the classroom, and recopying their notes and putting it in,” Roberts said in a recent interview with Wednesday Journal. “The efficiency of using the iPad has really helped us pay attention to the number one task in a district that yields the best result: to make sure we have the best available teachers in front of kids.”

Roberts was impressed with the district’s extensive technology plan, put together before he arrived. But he noted that most plans are probably outdated by the time they’re published because technology is always evolving. Roberts stressed using money from the district’s referendum to improve technology. The veteran school administrator is also open to students using cellphones in their studies.

“Can they misuse the technology? Sure they can. But is that a reason for us not to take advantage of something that makes learning very personal, something that makes learning very relevant? I think not. So we’ve got to find a way, again, to build that balance,” Roberts said.

To help staff use technology better, the district hired a “tech interventionist,” one duty being to help teachers with certain computer applications in the classroom, Roberts said.

“For example, if I were in the classroom and I asked a question and everyone raises a hand and I point to one, then I have one youngster responding. … When I use some of the technologies that allow kids to all respond, I’ve got them all thinking,” he said. “So if we use technology in a way to help youngsters stay engaged … then that’s a tremendous change in how education works.”

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