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Houston Formally Begins 1-to-1 High School Program

Houston Independent School District (HISD) has begun handing out 18,000 laptops in the first phase of a high school 1-to-1 program. The first round encompasses 11 schools out of 44. The initiative, called PowerUp, will let students take the devices home and provide them with a variety of software. It was initially announced by Superintendent Terry Grier in a February 1, 2013 "state of the schools" address.

"PowerUp is not about the device," emphasized Grier in a statement. "This is about creating anytime, anywhere learning for our students so they can have the world at their fingertips. We want to make sure they learn the skills that complement technology so they aren't replaced by technology."

Teachers at the initial group of schools have spent a semester learning how to use the device and integrate digital resources into their instructional practices.

"I am excited, and my students are excited," said Madison High School Teacher Shannon Smith. "I have already started using more technology and Web tools in my classroom for instruction, and now I will be able to take it to the next level. Many of my students can't afford a computer, so this is really going to equalize the playing field at Madison and at many HISD schools."

Smith and other teachers received their computers in August and have been attending training sessions given by the instructional technology and professional development departments during the weekends, after school and in periods on early-release days. The training will continue for the remainder of the 2013-2014 school year.

The district also put a group of "early adopter" teachers and principals from each of the phase one schools through training with staff from the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina. Mooresville implemented its 1-to-1 program six years ago. In July 2013 a group of principals and other program support staff traveled to North Carolina to see the program in action.

"Teacher training was a priority from the start of our PowerUp project, and working with Mooresville only reinforced our strategy that teacher training and development needed to be a crucial part of our implementation plan to ensure the success of PowerUp," said Chief Technology Officer Lenny Schad. "I continually tell people that this is not just a technology initiative. This involves almost every district department including curriculum, professional development, leadership, communications and instructional technology."

The district also undertook a wireless infrastructure upgrade during summer 2013. Each of the schools also features a new "customer service room" staffed with instructional technology people who can help the teachers with computer problems and train them on Web-based tools and software.

Each student device, a Hewlett Packard solid-state laptop, is pre-loaded with software that includes Microsoft Office 2013, Internet Explorer 9, Google Chrome, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Windows Movie Maker, Computrace, and filtering software that blocks keyword content and inappropriate sites, including some social media sites. The district is also making additional software available online for installation, including iTunes and Skype. Before students are issued their laptop, they take a digital citizenship class that reviews the district's policy on the proper use of technology and electronic services. Both parents and students also must also sign a laptop loan/acceptable use agreement and pay an annual $25 non-refundable security deposit.

Phase two of the program will add 18 high schools during the 2014-2015 school year. In 2015-2016, the remaining 15 high schools will join.

To pay for the program, the district is repurposing dollars from other budget areas and using Title I and Title II funds. The cost to lease a laptop, including software and a warranty, is pegged at roughly $260 a year.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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