Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Scholar+ at Perris Union High School District

Image used with permission from PUHSD
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit the Perris Union High School District to learn more about their innovative Scholar+ program. I had heard great things about this new program which included a 1:1 device per student program using Chromebooks. Fortunately, the team at PUHSD was very open to sharing what the program is, what the thinking was behind the creation, what the challenges have been, and what the next phases are. I met with Joseph Williams (PUHSD’s Director of Technology), Charles Tippie (Assessment TOSA), and several members of Joseph’s IT team.

As soon as the group started talking about Scholar+, it became obvious that this was more than a Chromebook purchasing plan. These folks did their research. They brought together a stakeholder group, they read journal articles, reviewed national reports, met with local experts, and even visited districts in other states. Then they wrote a comprehensive plan that starts with stating their desired outcomes, covers the goals and instructional tools, outlines the professional development, and discusses the required infrastructure. Finally, the plan examines how to fund the devices. PUHSD provides an iPad for every teacher and a Chromebook for every student - all 10,000 of them! When asked about the impetus for going to a 1:1 model, Joseph cites the research and pulls up the quote from the National Education Technology Plan that ended up on page 1 of the PUHSD plan, "Ensure that every student and educator has at least one Internet access device and appropriate software and resources for research, communication, multimedia content creation, and collaboration for use in and out of school."

Joseph and Charles also point out that a good deal of time was spent on just coming up with the name for the program. It was important to the entire stakeholder group that the name be reflective of students and learning, not technology and logistics. Scholar+ was adopted as the name. A logo was designed, and each of the Chromebooks has that logo etched on the top cover.

Why Chromebooks? At the risk of oversimplifying Joseph’s response, it seemed to come down to price point and flexibility. The district had adopted Google Apps for Education back in 2010, so Google’s Chrome OS on the Chromebooks was a good fit. And at around $300 per device, the district was able to jump into a full 1:1 model. The model includes checking the devices out to students for 24/7 usage during the school year. And there is even some early stages of discussion around letting students take the devices home over the summer. There is, of course, some breakage and loss. But what they have learned so far is that there is not very much loss, and they spend far less on replacing these devices than they do on replacing textbooks.

Additionally, the Scholar+ team liked the versatility that the Chromebooks gave them in terms of preparing for SBAC and gearing up for the Common Core in general. Though the devices would help immensely with SBAC testing, the team felt it was important that the devices not be perceived primarily as assessment tools, but instead clearly be seen as devices for everyday teaching and learning in the classroom.

Dr. Diana Walsh-Reuss, Riverside County Associate Superintendent of Schools, and Jenny Thomas (Program Specialist with CTAP Region 10) joined me on this visit. All three of us walked away feeling impressed with: 1) how thoughtfully the whole Scholar+ program had been put together, and 2) how serious the team was about the data they collected on the impact of the program and how it could be improved. While the program was developed to help infuse technology into the classrooms, the focus was kept sharply on students and on learning.

Dennis Large
educator & learner
follow me @dennislarge

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