A Shared Vision Yields Results in Huntsville, Alabama

Nancy Caramanico

A one-to-one program in grades 3-12, involving Intel-based laptops and partnerships with industry and the community, helps narrow the digital divide.

Huntsville City Schools, located in northern Alabama, take a truly proactive and comprehensive approach to closing the digital divide. With more than 55% of their students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, district leaders felt that a phased-in approach to providing ubiquitous access to technology would not be fast enough. They decided to forgo doing pilot programs and, instead, launch a full-scale one-to-one program in the upper grades and ramp up access for all students, K-12. 
 
Huntsville has deployed 17,000 HP Probook notebooks in grades 3-12. The ratio is 1:1 and the students take the laptops home. In grades K-2 the district deployed older tablets for in-school use, with a 1:5 ratio for the students in these grades. Technology is now readily available to every teacher, student and parent, along with a clear path for using it to build student success. 
 
Picking the Laptops
 
Curriculum takes a priority when planning for technology use at Huntsville. “When looking at technology devices, we think about what works well with our curriculum. What tool can deliver our curriculum effectively and help us to meet our standards?” says Heather Bender, director of education technology.
 
Laptops were the answer for grades 3-12 and, after exploring different options, the model they chose was the HP 6440B Pro Book laptop. “They are durable, relatively light and have a long battery life. We needed something we could put in the hands of K-12 students and this really met our criteria,” explains Dr. Barbara Cooper, deputy superintendent. 
 
The laptops, now in their second year of a leasing program, have been a very successful tool. Students use them at home and at school -- in the classroom and in Internet cafes with flexible work spaces. The long battery life of the HP model makes a true difference. Students now see charging laptops as part of their preparation for school and can feel confident that the laptop will last them through the school day without needing to be frequently recharged. Parents pay a $35 fee and the school has insurance and accidental damage support through HP. 
 

 
The speed with which the district implemented a comprehensive one-to-one program is one thing that sets Huntsville apart. “Evolving change would not bring equity,” says Heather Bender. “We wanted to make sure that all students had the same device – the tools they need for success in a real-world setting. It is a more equitable process. We can work on closing the digital divide and at the same time lead Huntsville City schools to college and career readiness.”
 
Forming Partnerships for Student Success
 
When launching their program, Huntsville knew that strong partnerships could make a tangible difference. They set out to forge relationships with partners who could assist them in reaching their goals while providing the necessary expertise and support needed. Much of their online curriculum was obtained through Pearson. Students access digital curriculum resources for anytime access. Through Pearson, Huntsville arranged on-site professional development and instructional technology support. This initial professional development support set the stage for powerful uses while modeling best practice for in-house tech coaches who are taking over this role. 
 
In order to manage student laptop activity, Huntsville chose DyKnow Monitor, which allows teachers and administrators to track, supervise and guide students on their computers. With Dyknow, classroom collaboration is enhanced since students can interact with teachers through broadcasts, polls, messaging and screen sharing. 
 
Community and parent involvement efforts have bolstered the district’s program and are openly shared online and in person. From the start, Huntsville communicated its vision for 1:1 educational technology, letting everyone know how important the program was, not only to the students but also for the community as a whole. Parent nights, digital tours and parent education about digital learning are a regular part of the program. Here, parents learn about technology and their role in supporting student learning. Topics such as digital citizenship, responsible use, and academic digital resources are frequently subjects of parent communiqués and parent technology nights. 
 
When students leave the school they go into spaces ever more in tune with the digital learning at Huntsville. Buses with wireless capabilities provide access to the digital curriculum content and learning management system en route to and from school. The community has joined in by adding wireless support in many public areas. In fact, the city’s mayor has advocated for wi-fi access in parks and recreation centers and has encouraged others to install open wi-fi at buildings all through the town. 
 
Data, Citizenship and Digital Content
 
Setting goals and carefully monitoring progress is a cornerstone of the program at Huntsville. According to Dr. Cooper, the district focuses its efforts on data-driven change. Cohesive teams look at logistics reports regularly and use the information to address gaps, apply solutions and grow as a team. “We ask how well the school is doing to keep things operational,” she says. “We share monthly and weekly reports with principals so that people know how things are going. This is not only good for our district. It is good for our entire city.”
 
To support responsibility and digital citizenship, Huntsville uses lesson materials from Common Sense Media, accessed on Edmodo. The media specialist makes sure it is delivered in each school. “We are also putting together a responsible care handbook for the students. It addresses how to care for the technology and also how to use it appropriately from a digital citizenship standpoint,” explains Heather Bender.
 
The comprehensive digital conversion at Huntsville impacts all subject areas. All textbooks are online, as are activities and assessments, interactive tests and tutorials. The online support and access can be available at any time. “For example, my son was able to get geometry assistance from a live tutor one evening,” says Rena Anderson, director of community engagement, who is also a school parent. 
 
Since Huntsville went one-to-one, they have seen dramatic increases in student achievement. Across the district, they saw an 18% increase in reading scores from fall 2011 to winter 2013.  An even higher increase was realized in math, where scores rose 27% from the fall of 2011 to winter 2013. In addition, the district’s graduation rate has risen 14 percent in the two-year period since the program began. 
 
District leaders offer the following tips for others interested in launching one-to-one with digital content:
 
1. Know that progress happens over time: Be patient during the first months. It will be hard because much is new and everyone is learning. Communication during the process is important. 
 
2. Communicate well: Share the vision and progress with the school stakeholders and the local community. Invite parents and show them what digital curriculum looks like. Help them to understand. 
 
3. Be comprehensive: Prepare your entire district for change. Involve teachers, students, administrators and all staff. Make targets and share milestones.
 
4. Be flexible: Things are constantly changing and evolving so be ready to change and adapt. 
 
5. Work closely with school leaders: Make sure leaders are ready. Be prepared to make changes to put leaders in place who will champion your efforts. 
 
6. Make professional development a priority: “Help teachers navigate the change of practice required. Support teacher modeling of new professional learning implementation and integration,” says Heather Bender
 
7. Monitor and adapt: Look at statistics and feedback and apply solutions as needed. Use that information to enhance student learning. 
 
As Huntsville moves forward, they openly share their successes with other districts both online and through in-person digital tours. They also talk with local colleges about teacher preparation for providing digital learning. 
 
“Teamwork and shared decision making brought us all together on the same page for this project,” says Rena Anderson. “We knew we wanted all students to have the same access to lead Huntsville school students to college and career readiness.” All signs point to the fact that the program is working. As district leaders plan, monitor and measure their progress, Huntsville will undoubtedly continue to have successes to report, thanks in large part to dedication and collaboration by the entire school community.
 
At A Glance: 
Huntsville City Schools serve 23,700 students, 45% of whom are White, 41% Black, and 14% of other ethnicities. 55.17% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
 
The district consists of 7 high schools, 7 middle schools, 21 elementary schools, 33 Pre-K programs and 5 P-8 schools and 1 Career-Tech Center high school
 
Huntsville was granted district-wide accreditation in 2012 by AdvanceEd, a global accreditation and school improvement organization 
 
Infrastructure: 
Wireless internet access was installed in each school in 2012, prior to the 1:1 rollout as a means to assure connectivity to newly connecting devices.
 
Huntsville has purchased HP 6440B Pro Book laptops for all students grades 3-12. Students in younger grades use older tablets on a shared basis. 
 
The district uses the DyKnow Monitor, Pearson online curriculum resources, Edmodo and other online systems.  Professional development coaching has been provided to each school through the support of Pearson and also through school-based staff.  Students and staff use Microsoft Office for a variety of tasks. 
 

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