District Getting Ready to PowerUp

Boxes and boxes of green wire line the halls of Sam Houston Math, Science & Technology Center, as workers perched on ladders string together cable and carefully tuck it inside the campus’ ceiling tiles. After several weeks of back-breaking work, Sam Houston is ready to power up, literally, as one of the pilot schools in phase 1 of HISD’s PowerUp program, a districtwide initiative that will eventually provide every high school student with a laptop.

“At this and the other PowerUp schools, we are installing wireless access points in every instructional room and common area,” said HISD Technology Project Manager Kevin Hodges. “Basically what we are trying to do is go from a nice two-lane country road to a multi-lane high-speed freeway.”

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Because of the breadth of the PowerUp initiative and the training, support, and cultural change it will require of HISD teachers and school leaders, the decision was made to roll it out in stages, with phase 1 or the pilot stage, beginning during the 2013–2014 school year at 11 high schools — Austin, Bellaire, Chavez, The Energy Institute, Kashmere, Lee, Madison, Sam Houston, Sharpstown, Young Men’s College Preparatory Academy, and Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy.

“This is more than just giving students laptops,” said HISD Chief Technology Officer Lenny Schad. “This is about changing the way our teachers teach and our students learn. PowerUp will create transformational, digital-age instruction that will prepare Houston’s children to succeed in the 21st century and compete with their peers around the world.”

Teachers at the pilot schools will receive their laptops in August and will undergo extensive training and professional development for an entire semester before students receive their computers in January 2014. Over the past few months, the Curriculum Department has been creating an expanded and robust set of online instructional strategies and resources for teachers at the 11 schools. Meanwhile, the Information Technology Department has been working around the clock to ensure the pilot schools have the infrastructure they need to support the initiative.

“Infrastructure-wise, device-wise, and training-wise, there is a lot to be done in the next couple months,” said Hodges. “We have a whole team in curriculum, professional development,and instructional technology working behind the scenes to make this a success.”

Superintendent Terry Grier announced his vision for the PowerUp initiative during his 2012 State of the School’s address, stating, “With anytime–anywhere learning, our students will have the world at their fingertips. We will make sure they learn skills that complement technology in order to prevent them from being replaced by technology.”