Dysart board eyes digital citizenship survey results

An aerial view of the Dysart Unified School District offices in Surprise. The rural Paradise Acres development is to the west. (Courtesy naturalpowerandenergy.com)

By Jennifer Jimenez
Independent Newsmedia
With implementation of digital citizenship around the Dysart Unified School District and changes in technology, the district has an up-to-date assessment of what students, staff, faculty and administration understand digital citizenship to be.
Students in grades 7-12, as well as staff and administrators received the digital survey this past March. There were 9,629 who participated in the survey with 7,958 students, 681 staff members, 551 faculty and 79 administrators.
DUSD Director of Students Services Karen Winterstein said awareness was a major focus for goal C of the strategic plan.
“Some highlights included only one-third of students knew what the digital footprint looked like and meant, but faculty and administrators are more familiar with issues related to digital footprint,” Ms. Winterstein explained. “Cyberbullying was made a priority for students and we did look at benchmarks and will be using those.”
According to the results, no more than 33 percent of students and 43 percent of staff selected the same definition. Sixty-six percent of administrators are aware of the goal, compared to 33 percent of faculty and 16 percent of students.
“In the next steps we will really focus on a communicating rollout knowing exactly what we need to target internal stakeholders, students, staff and administration, as well as external communication with parents and the community,” Ms. Winterstein said. “This isn’t a school initiative, so we really need to promote digital citizenship to parents as well so we can ensure students are being responsible at all times.”
Governing board member Christine A.K. Pritchard said she heard from parents who were told by their students there was a work-around to get past the district firewall through a VPN and wondered how the district was handling this issue.
“The district is aware and I work really closely with administration and our wonderful IT department and yes students can access the VPN and they can get around it just like in any facility any place with wireless firewalls,” Ms. Winterstein said. “And part of that is being responsible and practicing digital citizenship and following electronic user agreement that was rewritten to focus on that responsibility. That will also go on the staff members working with students and explaining to them the reason they should not be using VPN because that is part of the protections to ensure this is not taking place.”
Superintendent Dr. Gail Pletnick said the reality is students walk in with a data plan and they are not going through the district’s network and therefore digital citizenship is important.
“We can’t really be there and ensure they are always doing the right thing, so the best we can do is educate to be a good citizen and what happens when you make poor choices,” Ms. Pletnick said. “Students may put something out there and it literally can ruin their lives and opportunities for jobs and it will impact them years down the road. This whole effort is because we know this type of thing is happening and truly making sure students understand choices have consequences.”
Governing Board member Jennifer Tanner said she is happy to see the community is trying to do more and get involved, such as in El Mirage, where officials are trying to put together night programs to educate parents.
“Many of our cyberbulling situations are not happening here at school, it is happening outside and then it comes into school and is being passed inside. What starts outside has a negative impact inside,” Ms. Pletnick said.
Governing board president Tracy Sawyer-Sinkbeil was surprised that 33 percent of faculty understanding the goal. But Ms. Winterstein explained they are simply used to the previous way and when they think of safety they think of physical safety and don’t necessarily put them together.
“We need to do a better job of connecting digital citizenship with safety and making sure those are connected,” Ms. Winterstein said.
Ms. Pletnick said emergency goals have not been forgotten and that is what’s foremost in people’s minds, but added the district must help them understand the goal of digital citizenship and realize it’s just as serious since people can be hurt both short and long term if it doesn’t remain a focal point.



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