Investigating the Impact of the Cisco 21S Initiative on the Jefferson Parish Public School System: Summative Report

October 1, 2009

The Jefferson Parish Public School System (JPPSS) is a large suburban district of 88 schools, located in the heart of the Greater New Orleans metropolitan area in Louisiana. As of October 2008, the total enrollment of students in the Parish is 49 percent African American, 32 percent White, 13 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian, and 1 percent Native American. The free and reduced lunch population is 74 percent.

The district has been growing lately. Currently, JPPSS has 381 administrators and 3,210 teachers. The average teacher-student ratio in JPPSS is 1:15. Most of the teachers in the district are State Board-certified. (According to the New Leaders for New Schools organization, in 22009 "96% of the school district's teachers are state certified and 123 teachers are nationally board certified ".) In fact, JPPSS has the highest percentage of State Board-certified teachers in Louisiana.

Although JPPSS school leaders had engaged in reform efforts for years, progress in this large district was stymied by seemingly intractable education challenges such as an entrenched bureaucracy, antiquated technology, low student achievement, and high dropout rates. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, however, newly energized leadership and the Cisco 21S partnership combined to launch a dramatic educational transformation.

Vision and Leadership

I think the greatest impact is change in culture, and when I say change in culture, I would say a change in attitude, a change in approach, an appreciation for technology as a tool for enhancement. I think that it's been a 180-degree turn with respect to teachers, ... administrators, ... principals, and it's been a cultural shift. - a JPPSS district leader

To guide the transformation, leaders put forth a new vision designed to replace traditional ways with a new 21st century school culture. They developed a plan to ensure the school system moved toward the following:

  • Acting with a sense of "moral responsibility" to ensure the success of each child in the district
  • Becoming a learning organization informed by data-driven decision-making, research-based practice, and collaborative exchange
  • Providing a robust infrastructure and vision in which technology functions as an enabler of system transformation
  • Realizing higher levels of student achievement -specifically, higher literacy rates, fewer dropouts, and improved grade completion rates-with a broad focus on 21st century skills

These three structural transformations support the 21S vision:

  • Connected District/School: The Connected District/School component established a secure and manageable baseline technology platform (data, voice, video, etc.), which encompasses all the equipment and human resources necessary to support all administrative and instructional processes in the school.
  • Connected Learning: The Connected Learning component promoted 21st century teaching and learning through new technologies, instructional approaches, and professional development.
  • Connected Community: The Connected Community component focused on fostering positive relationships between the school and a broad set of stakeholders, including parents, businesses, agencies, and non-profit organizations.
  • Connected District/Schools

    A bold and dynamic vision for educational technology served as the backbone of the JPPSS transformation. Jefferson Parish leaders constructed a four-fold technology plan built around these goals:

    • Strengthening leadership
    • Improving teacher training
    • Supporting e-learning and virtual schools
    • Encouraging improved technology access and usage

    In the course of the Cisco 21S Initiative, JPPSS revamped its entire technology infrastructure. In the last two years, the district has made tremendous strides in installing and reconfiguring its network infrastructure, as well as administrative and instructional tools, at all 88 schools and 2,964 classrooms in the district. The work required to build out this level of technology access can be seen in the increased hours reported by technology personnel. In 2009, technical staff said they spent on average almost 12 hours per week overseeing infrastructure installation and 9.5 hours overseeing infrastructure maintenance. In 2008, those figures were 2.28 hours and 2.61 hours, respectively.

    District leadership expressed confidence in the technology they had put in place. In 2009, more administrators agreed that the wireless Internet connections and technology-based security systems in their schools met or exceeded their expectations than they did in 2008. Over the course of the 21S Initiative, the number of administrators who believed the overall state of implementation was on target or above their expectations grew 24 percentage points, from 73 percent to 97 percent. Other key stakeholders shared that confidence, with 89 percent of technical personnel and 95 percent of classroom teachers agreeing that technology implementation is on or ahead of schedule.

    The district's enhanced technical capacity facilitated another critical component of the change process-the collaboration and communication that is so essential in a district this large. As a result of new policies, tools, best practices, and interactions among stakeholders, the barriers that once divided the central office and the schools, and schools and their communities, no longer exist.

    A key factor in the success of the Connected District/Schools component was the hiring of a chief technology officer (CTO) who dramatically shaped the transformation process by putting in place these steps:

    • Helping to articulate the education technology vision
    • Aligning and standardizing technologies with that vision
    • Helping to integrate technologies into the everyday functioning of the district and schools
    • Ensuring reliability of technology network services
    • Offering a cost-effective system of technology support and professional development strategies
    • Building a technology budget and a sustainability strategy
    • Adding a director of instructional technology, a director of technology and operations, and a director of network services to support these efforts

    The effect has been dramatic. At the classroom level, the vast majority of teachers reported they have access to computers, the Internet and telecommunications technologies, TVs, and Web 2.0 tools in the classrooms, as well as presentation and productivity software. Nearly all classrooms are outfitted with instructional and management technology tools, including interactive whiteboards and pull-down screens, teacher laptops, IP phones, and projectors. In addition, the district implemented a one-to-one laptop initiative, distributing 3,160 laptops to teachers and students in four middle schools and three high schools. The program will expand by one grade every year. The technology department also instituted a laptop-leasing program to make 3,500 laptops available to teachers.

    Connected Learning: Educator Outcomes

    Although robust technology is the catalyst of change in the 21S vision, without changes in teaching practice, few enduring learning gains will take place. The district's new technological vision required leaders to also rethink their professional development strategy. Over the course of the 21S Initiative, JPPSS has instituted a number of new professional development opportunities and created staff positions aimed at helping educators more effectively integrate technology and apply more student-centered approaches to curriculum and instruction.

    New functional roles, such as the following, have been created:

    • Professional development resource teachers who help with technology integration in the classroom
    • Technology coordinators who support the technology vision at the school level
    • Professional development coordinators to assess needs and conduct and assess technology trainings

    New partnerships have been established to support the work of JPPSS staff, including:

    • The Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) intern program, which leverages the talents of local college students and recent graduates to serve as additional technology support staff in schools throughout the district.
    • The Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform (Schlechty), a professional development center that helps educators increase student engagement through the creation of challenging student-centered curriculum, and fosters collaboration among teachers to support these new pedagogies.

    The district has also been very active in developing its own professional development offerings, the most ambitious of which is the summer Instructional Technology Integration Institute, a professional development program focused on technology integration and the use of Web 2.0 technologies. Whereas much of JPPSS's training to date has focused on hardware such as Promethean board training, this summer (2009) saw the first district-wide Instructional Technology Integration Institute professional development program that involved the entire corps of administrators, teachers, and central staff-more than 5,000 attendees in total.

    The Institute offered keynotes by Dr. Tony Wagner, co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of The Global Achievement Gap, Dr. Phil Schlechty, founder of the Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform, and Ms. Supriya Jindal, first lady of Louisiana and founder of the Supriya Jindal Foundation. Hundreds of sessions and workshops presented by nationally recognized experts in K-12 educational technology, technology integration specialists, and teachers, offered lessons focused on integrating the latest in Web 2.0 tools and classroom technology into curriculum. (Cisco Staff, 2009)

    As part of the district's ongoing professional development effort, a content repository, 21S In Action, has been created to house authentic and engaging project-based lessons developed by schools and students (see link at Participants are using Wikis for a variety of projects, blogs, podcasts and vodcasts, and Googledocs for sharing documents.

    Other noteworthy developments include the use of a Web-based scheduling tool (AVATAR) that enables educators to register for and schedule trainings. Further demonstrating its commitment to professional learning, the district has broken ground to build a new permanent professional development center.

    And what have been the results of the Connected Learning efforts aimed at educators?

    • Two-thirds of administrators reported greater efficiency in administrative tasks, and a significant change in the use of data for management, accountability, and instructional decisions.
    • Three-quarters of teachers and administrators agreed that teachers' use of instructional technology has increased significantly.
    • More than half of teachers surveyed reported using computers, Internet/telecommunication tools, and interactive whiteboards daily.
    • Fifty-nine percent (59 percent) of administrators noted significant positive change in the use of technology to advance data collection, analysis, and dissemination, and 56 percent of administrators reported significant change in the use of data for management, accountability, and instructional decisions.
    • Self-assessments by teachers showed their levels of technical expertise growing, and almost half stated they are highly proficient or approaching that level when integrating technology into their teaching practices. For instance, in 2009, 61 percent of teachers rated themselves at an intermediate level of proficiency with interactive whiteboards, up from 42 percent a year before.
    • In the past year, teacher expectations of students' use of technology have risen by 20 percentage points or more in all five categories surveyed: use of computers, use of the Internet, work in process, student projects, and higher-order thinking and problem solving.
    • Teachers reported that they endorse more student-centered approaches to instruction and that the frequency with which they ask students to collaborate, revise their work, and present to class has increased by 5 or more percentage points over the past two school years.
    • Levels of communication and collaboration among educators have also increased markedly over the course of the 21S Initiative. Ninety-seven percent (97 percent) of administrators and 91 percent of teachers agreed that discussion of school goals and how to achieve them is a regular part of their faculty meetings. Ninety-seven percent (97 percent) of survey respondents agreed that research and best practices are shared in their district and that new ideas presented during professional development sessions are discussed later with colleagues. Ninety-two percent (92 percent) of respondents noted that teachers have input regarding innovations, projects, and changing practices.

    Connected Learning: Student Outcomes

    As the number of 21S-participating schools has risen, not surprisingly, student use of technology has been increasing as well. Other important gains are also being realized:

    • In 2009, twice the number of students (71 percent) reported reading an hour or more per day than in 2008 (35 percent).
    • Teachers reported higher levels of student engagement in class as measured by students' asking questions (up 15 percentage points), completing assignments (up 17 percentage points), and coming prepared to class (up 4 percentage points).
    • The number of students participating in district-wide math/science fairs has increased from 40 in 2008 to 104 in 2009.
    • High school students improved attendance in 2008-2009, with those missing between 11 and 20 school days in the year falling from 27 percent in 2008 to 7 percent in 2009. The percentage of students with the same number of unexcused absences fell from 28 percent to 13 percent in 2009.
    • District records show that behavioral incidents have declined. The number of absences in the district steadily decreased between 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 but then rose again in 2008-2009. The number of late arrivals have decreased since 2005-2006. The total number of expulsions, the total number of suspensions, and the number of students suspended have all decreased since 2005-2006. (The difference between the total number of suspensions and students suspended refers to the fact that some students are suspended multiple times.)
    • There have been positive advances in graduation rates; the percentages of students graduating from high school and receiving the General Educational Development (GED) diploma have both increased steadily over the past three years. In addition, the number of students who dropped out of school has decreased by 52 percent since 2005-2006.
    • On average, JPPSS administrators, teachers, and students reported that students' college and work force readiness has increased.

    Although student test scores are not the only measure of student success, they do show promising trends since the launch of 21S:

    • In Grades 4 and 8: Every year more students are performing at basic (i.e., passing) levels or higher, and the gap between the state and JPPSS test scores has steadily narrowed across the three years of the Initiative on three of the four required fourth-grade subjects tests. The gap has also narrowed in all four eighth-grade subject tests.
    • In Grades 10 and 11: Again, increasing numbers of JPPSS students are scoring at basic levels or higher on the Graduation Exit Examination (GEE) mathematics, science, and social studies tests, while the gap has narrowed between JPPSS students and students elsewhere in the state in three of the four subject tests.
    • The number of students taking the American College Testing (ACT) has increased by 5 percent in these three years. In addition, ACT scores steadily increased from 18.5 in 2006 to 18.8 in 2008, but then declined slightly to 18.6 in 2008-2009.

    Connected Community

    Parental involvement has been shown to be critical to the health and well-being of a school system. JPPSS leaders have employed a variety of strategies to increase parental involvement at all levels in the school system. As a result, a majority of parents (63 percent) feel their children's schools have successfully reached out to them. The 21S Initiative has improved the district's image within the community as well, according to 91 percent of Jefferson Parish administrators and 71 percent of its teachers.

    To heighten awareness of and elicit support for the 21S Initiative, JPPSS leaders have conducted numerous presentations and outreach activities to parents as well as local business and civic organizations, state agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and cultural associations. District and school websites have all experienced growth in number of pages and in page-view traffic.

    Remaining Challenges

    As Cisco's direct involvement with JPPSS ends, it is appropriate to look back to see what the experience tells us about large-scale educational reform. Although much has been accomplished in the Jefferson Parish district, challenges remain.

    Connected District/Schools: Teachers feel they lack access to certain technology tools, in particular, videoconferencing equipment and subject-specific software.

    Connected Learning: On the technical side, district administrators expressed concern about being able to continue to provide adequate levels of professional development and technical support. Old professional beliefs and behaviors do not change overnight. Administrators said they still need help overcoming some teachers' antiquated teaching philosophies, getting all their teachers to integrate technology into their lesson plans, and implementing innovative ideas. Technology personnel said they need more training and reported difficulties working with some teachers who lack basic technology skills.

    It is encouraging, then, that teachers echo the same desires-asking for more professional development support in the use of technology tools and software. And of course, they bemoan the lack of that perennially limited resource, time. Student surveys show their desire for more freedom to direct their own learning and to be given more time to interact with technology. Showing they are already 21st century global citizens, they wish for more opportunities to communicate with students from other countries.

    Connected Community: JPPSS administrators continued to report difficulties getting more parents and community members involved in their outreach efforts.

    These challenges, though, should not take away from the outstanding work and the impressive gains in leading, teaching, and learning that the 21S Initiative has made possible in the Jefferson Parish schools.

    Lessons Learned

    Vision and Change Leadership: JPPSS leadership developed a 21st century vision in order to build a systemic culture change through the following:

    • Passionate promotion of a clear vision within and outside the system, and modeling the vision to address stakeholders' concerns and encourage buy-in to the new vision
    • Increased communication and collaboration among leadership throughout the system
    • Enhanced technical capacity through the addition of new technical leadership and restructuring of the technology division
    • Adoption of new teaching and learning approaches
    • Judicious and strategic cultivation of partnerships
    • Creation and maintenance of leadership teams at both the district and school levels
    • Development of change management processes for monitoring innovation
    • Development of a long-term sustainability plan to continue the 21S vision

    21st Century Learning Environment: To transform the system into a 21st century learning environment capable of supporting administrative efficiencies and a constructivist approach to teaching and learning, JPPSS leadership engaged in the following activities:

    • Revamped its entire technology infrastructure and acquired new technology tools including software, hardware, wireless Internet service, and technology-based security systems
    • Provided high-quality, easily accessible technical support
    • Outfitted classrooms with laptops, projectors, IP telephones, audio speakers, a pull-down screen or interactive board, hand-held devices, and instructional software
    • Created Web 2.0 applications to share information among teachers and to foster home-school connections
    • Provided a wealth of ongoing professional learning opportunities to promote effective technology use and instruction within the district
    • Launched the construction of a permanent professional development center
    • Promoted the use of data to inform and differentiate instruction
    • Encouraged parental and community participation in realizing the 21S vision

    The analysis of the relationships between the implementation inputs and the project's outcomes seems to point out the key programmatic components necessary for the systemic transformation of a large suburban school district wanting to change to a 21st-century education system under adverse conditions such as hurricanes and low educational achievements. The key programmatic elements for transformation include these:

    • Access to sufficient hardware and software
    • Reliable and stable Internet access
    • High-quality technical professional development
    • Effective communication and collaboration strategies for teachers
    • Administrative support
    • Inclusion of parents and community members in the decision-making processes

    Of the 34 unique outcomes examined, the 14 included below highlight some of the impacts that are possible when the right mix of inputs are in place at the school and district level:

    • Increased administrator and teacher ICT literacy
    • Increased use of data for management, accountability, and equity decisions
    • Higher-quality teacher and administrator training
    • Higher quality of teaching
    • Improved integration of technology into the curriculum
    • Increased college preparation
    • Fewer student discipline problems
    • More collaboration with other districts
    • Improved community perception of the school or district
    • More school/community partnerships
    • Increased community involvement at the school
    • Increased school-home communications
    • Increased parental involvement at the school


Harouna Ba
Terri Meade
Elizabeth Pierson