MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

August 4, 2013

SUNDAY EXTRA: MPS moves toward digital teaching

Training of teachers has already started

By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Preparation for Muskogee Public Schools’ digital conversion is in full swing even though laptops won’t get into students’ hands until January.

There is a rigorous training schedule for teachers and administrators under way, and students could even see some of their new curriculum being used in the classroom before they get their laptops.

Potential issues that Pearson Education Inc. has seen in other districts’ digital conversions are or will be addressed, and the new curriculum is already in teachers’ hands, school and Pearson officials said at a meeting with MPS teachers and staff Friday.

Among those potential issues are lack of Internet access for every student and ensuring that students continue to receive an engaging, interactive classroom environment.

The district began moving toward eliminating textbooks and getting all homework and resources online almost immediately after the school board voted to use Pearson for its digital conversion.

Representatives have been working daily with district administrators to choose the new curriculum and plan training dates.

The computer programs chosen for each class at the secondary level have been put online for teachers to become familiar with.

On Aug. 13, Pearson will have a seminar for the entire district to train each teacher on how to use the programs in the classroom.

Mark Jamison of Pearson said Friday that he often sees teachers use the resources they are given long before the students get computers in hand.

“Say we’re studying the Aztecs. Most often I see the teachers discover, ‘Hey, I can click and there’s a map, I can click and there’s video interviews with experts,’” Jamison said. “And they realize they can begin using the digital curriculum much sooner.”

Judy Goldstein, Pearson’s vice president of operations management, said parents will get much more information as the process goes on.

“We’ll need to bring parents in for meetings after students get their laptops so they can also learn how to use them, but parents will also be hearing from Pearson and the school district through a series of communications through this fall,” Goldstein said.

Jamison said parents will need to know how to log in and see what their kids are doing.

“In Huntsville, Alabama, those meetings were very well attended,” he said.

Huntsville City Schools, a district larger than Muskogee, went digital using Pearson’s services.

The district had parent workshops and provided a video overview of the digital curriculum online as well as answers to frequently asked questions by parents and other support.

A district close to Muskogee in size that has been recognized by numerous organizations as a shining example of digital conversion is Mooresville Graded School District in Mooresville, N.C.

Muskogee school teachers and administrators will hear advice from Mooresville Superintendent Mark Edwards at the district’s first professional development day Aug. 30.

Edwards has given examples of his district’s success with digital conversion at seminars around the country and in a book he wrote.

Five years after it rolled out the digital conversion, the district is doing great, he told Scholastic Administrator Magazine in a recent article, “10 Lessons from the Best School District in the Country.”

The graduation rate for Mooresville’s African-American students was 67 percent five years ago but was 95 percent in 2012.

The district’s overall graduation rate is the third highest in North Carolina. Of Mooresville’s 2012 graduates, 88 percent are heading to college.

The district accomplished all this with less money in the budget than most other districts, he said. It ranks 100th in spending per student out of the state’s 115 districts.

Mooresville had to increase its class sizes to pay for the computers, the magazine said.

Muskogee won’t have to do that because of the bond issue passed by voters in May, which will fund 99 percent of the digital conversion over the next five years, Chief Financial Officer John Little said.

It will cost about $14 million over the next five years, but should cost less to maintain each year after that than it costs for the district to buy textbooks every year now, Little said.

By its very definition, “digital curriculum” may make some think students will be plugged into computers every minute and teachers will no longer engage students’ learning.

But Pearson officials say that’s not the case. And one area school system has long proven its digital curriculum is producing well-educated graduates.

During Friday’s meeting, a teacher asked Jamison whether the digital curriculum is going to “take the teaching out of teaching, so to speak.”

Jamison said no.

“Teachers will use this digital curriculum in the classroom, and it is interactive, then the students’ homework will be to go home and make a flip board demonstrating their understanding of the topic, or some project like that,” he said.

“And there are many, many ways you can create assignments that aren’t just reading something and answering multiple choice questions.”

Principal Jerry Perdue of Boulevard Christian School said its digital curriculum gave teachers more one-on-one instructional time with each student.

“In our case what’s happened is, because we have always used an individualized curriculum, teaching takes place on a one-on-one basis,” he said. “That’s why we have such a low student/teacher ratio.”

Boulevard Christian began transitioning to computer curriculum 14 years ago.

Perdue said the transition didn’t happen overnight.

“After we started with Graham Hall, which was at that time located on Bacone’s Campus, then we started bringing more and more computerization into our main campus,” he said.

It was the pilot program for Alpha Omega and the first private school in Oklahoma to become networked, he said.

The school moved from floppy disks to CDs to today’s technology successfully, Perdue said, and the students’ academic performance is a great example of their success — including having a five-year average of ACT scores five points higher than the state average.

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.