Digital Transformation

Hon champions digital transformation
Posted on 04/17/2013

A forward-thinking decision was made during the March school board meeting that will revolutionize the way students learn at Poplar Bluff Schools.

“Absolutely yes” said board member Alana Robertson, seconding Kent Eyler’s affirmative vote to go forward with the digital transformation, which was met by unanimous approval, along with a standing ovation from teachers in attendance.

Dr. Matt Riffle later commented that the applause was his “greatest moment” in five years serving on the Board of Education.

“Our children won’t have to go to college feeling like they are less prepared than students from St. Louis and Kansas City,” Riffle said. “So often in this rural part of Missouri we find ourselves playing catch up with bigger cities, but this initiative puts us on the cusp of innovation in education.”

About 800 Junior High students will be issued a MacBook Air during the 2013/14 school year. The following year, about 1,300 high-schoolers will receive a laptop as part of the one-to-one initiative.

When questioned by board president Steve Sells about the sustainability of the technology plan, Assistant Superintendent of Business/Finance Rod Priest replied the transition may require some prioritizing, then asked: “Can we afford not to invest in our kids?”

The initiative is designed to even the playing field for students regardless of their socioeconomic background, according to school officials.

“Our digital transformation will provide a clearer view of each student’s learning and use real-time data to personalize the path for every child,” Superintendent Chris Hon explained. “We will remove barriers and provide tools to enhance student engagement while stressing challenge-based learning that will increase our students’ creativity, collaboration and initiative. This will allow Poplar Bluff Schools to reach our mission: Achieving excellence through learning: every child, every hour, every day.”

Around the time Hon assumed his leadership post during the 2010/11 school year, the long-time educator read a national study conducted by Project RED concluding that schools employing a one-to-one student-computer ratio and key implementation factors outperform other schools.

Hon initially thought it was a “pie in the sky” idea for Poplar Bluff, he admitted, until he linked up with the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina during the Missouri Association of School Administrators conference in March 2012. Mooresville has been dubbed a lighthouse district because of the success of its one-to-one initiative, as measured by increased graduation rates and decreased student discipline referrals.

Mooresville has similar demographics to the Poplar Bluff school system in terms of headcount and students on the free and reduced lunch program, Hon realized. “What once seemed unattainable suddenly became a possibility,” he said.

At the beginning of the school year, a pilot program was initiated through which 100 laptops were rotated throughout all the Junior High classrooms, and teachers clamored about how engaged students were. The practice run will shift to Senior High next year.

“If the goal is to produce students who are college-ready or better prepared for the workforce, I believe we have an opportunity to change this community. I really do,” said Jim Thomas, director of media services, who has been in charge of the background infrastructure upgrade, which has included increasing wireless access and bandwidth.

During a consultation here in January, Mooresville Chief Technology Officer Dr. Scott Smith noted his school had not purchased a textbook in five years, with the rare exception.

“When you buy a textbook, the information is already 18 months to two years out of date and only 60 percent is aligned to your curriculum—or GLE, as it’s referred to in Missouri,” Smith said.

Whereas students in the past relied on teachers to disseminate lessons, now information is just a mouse click away, so students need to learn to navigate, according to Patty Robertson, assistant superintendent of instruction/curriculum.

Patty Robertson is currently leading a committee that is identifying digital resources to be used to meet course objectives. There will be an instructional facilitator available at each school site for teachers to draw on, along with a technology help desk for students.

“We’re not having a book burning party or anything like that, we will simply no longer be locked into the content that a given publisher has designed,” Patty Robertson pointed out. “It will be more of a partnership, through which students are being trusted to problem solve, while teachers provide the roadmap.”

Besides technology and curriculum, the third component of the one-to-one initiative that Mooresville implemented in order to narrow the student achievement gap is cultural. In April, Junior and Senior High administrators went to a Capturing Kids’ Hearts seminar in Texas to learn how faculty can communicate more effectively with students under this new classroom dynamic. The professional development will be offered to teachers this summer.

More informational meetings for parents will also be scheduled to answer questions about insurance policies required on the devices and special backpacks and protective cases that will be provided to students.

After attending one of the public forums in recent weeks, Three Rivers College music instructor Buddy White said that his son Thomas could not wait to take home his computer when he starts eighth grade come August.

“I believe this is revolutionary, visionary and extraordinary,” stated White, adding that he is proud of the school’s leadership. “As an educator on the college level, I know the power of technology to reach and motivate students. We can’t imagine the opportunities and advantages the digital revolution will bring to our children.”

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Cutline: Eighth grade honors English students submit essays to teacher Shelly Dunn on their laptop using Edmodo, commonly known as a Facebook for classrooms.

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