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Tough getting responses for the technology survey? See what this district is doing

Date: 
Monday, June 15, 2020

A small rural district in northeast Iowa is ensuring that every family’s voice is heard about whether they have internet connectivity and devices to hook up to it.

That’s in response to a survey sent to districts statewide by the state, which has received $26.2 million in federal relief to ensure education continues for all students in the fall despite the pandemic. Should classes have to be conducted online, the state wants to know precisely where the federal relief should be spent.

Though conducting a survey may seem straightforward, it is anything but. After all, how do you put out a survey for families who don’t have an internet connection? And even if they do, how do you ensure everyone takes the survey?

Cue West Delaware Community School District, which is based in Manchester but also covers the communities of Ryan, Dundee, Masonville and Greeley. When the district initially closed due to the pandemic, it launched its own survey to determine where it needed to shore up its connectivity.

Superintendent Kristen Rickey

Superintendent Kristen Rickey

“We tried all different approaches – a tiered approach,” said Superintendent Kristen Rickey. “There was no way we could call all 1,400-some students. So we just tried different methods. Little by little you whittle it down until it becomes a manageable number, and then you can access secretarial support to help make calls.”

The task was spearheaded by the district’s technology director Joe Hegland, who initially put the survey out through the district’s automatic calling system.

“We did it through the phone so we could get it to families who didn’t have internet,” he said. “We were able to see who had responded. We got almost everyone.”

Hegland said no medium was ignored in ensuring families knew about the survey.

“We hit as many different avenues as possible, social media, paper copies,” he said. “We even have a local radio station that would regularly talk about the importance of taking the survey.”

Finally, of those who still hadn’t answered, spreadsheets were made and given to the district’s secretaries, who started making calls.

“Within a few hours, we knew everyone in the district who had the internet and who didn’t,” Rickey said.

“We found out that we have 40 families representing about 80 students didn’t have internet access,” Hegland said.

That’s when the district received funds (thanks to Delaware County’s Economic Development, which had applied for and received an Iowa Economic Development block grant) to purchase hotspots for those without access.

“That enabled us to reach out to ensure everyone had access,” Rickey said.

District technology director Joe Hegland

District technology director Joe Hegland

The district already was sitting in a pretty good spot when the pandemic broke out, with students in grades 5 through 12 already being assigned Chromebook devices. But it still required the district to ensure the rest of the students had devices at their fingertips. The result was that an additional 180 students in preschool through the fourth grade – who otherwise were without access to devices at home – were able to borrow devices from the district.

Rickey said the district initially purchased six months’ worth of hotspots; having used two in the spring, the district was able to suspend its account and resume it once school starts up again.

“Our provider allowed us to shut it off for the summer, so that really helps stretch out the usage,” she said.

As for students with disabilities who need different types of devices, the district is still working on finding the right solution for each individual student.

“Depending on what the pandemic situation is, it might be in-person learning, or paper and pencil,” Rickey said.

During the coming months and school year, the district will continue to send out surveys to monitor accessibility.

“We have to be vigilant,” Rickey said. “Families that originally told us they had access may have to drop it if they lose their jobs. We will continue to send out messages and be proactive to make sure people have what they need.”

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Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on July 11, 2020 at 7:09pm.