Distributing nearly 18,000 laptops to students at eight high schools over the last three weeks has been no easy task, but all-in-all, deployment of devices in the first phase of HISD’s PowerUp initiative is being called a success. The relative ease and absence of major problems is the result of hours of planning, teamwork across various departments, and even assistance from a neighboring school district.
“I think one of the reason things went smoothly was because our deployment plan was developed with the advice and best practices from Klein ISD,” said HISD Chief Technology Officer Lenny Schad. Klein has a one-to-one program similar to HISD’s, but on a much smaller scale. Over the past several years, the district, located in northern Harris County, has distributed laptops in incremental phases to students at half a dozen schools, adding one or two schools a year.
Early on in the PowerUp planning and development phase, HISD reached out to the neighboring school district for input and recommendations. As a result, HISD decided to follow a similar approach and break down its distribution of student laptops in phases. The 11 schools in phase one PowerUp are 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. In phase two, 18 high schools will be added during the 2014–2015 school year, and an additional 15 high schools will distribute laptops in phase three during the 2015–2016 school year.
HISD’s teachers and instructional technologists have visited Klein classrooms several times over the past year to witness teaching and learning using the laptops and to see what kind of tech support is needed at each campus. Klein staff members have also shared with HISD what did and didn’t work during device deployment at their largest high schools, many of which have thousands of students. Because of their recommendations, HISD developed a systematic distribution plan for phase one that was spread out over a period of three weeks. During the deployment at each high school, students received their laptops and a brief introductory lesson while attending a normally scheduled class such as English or social studies. On average, the entire process in each classroom took less than an hour and resulted in limited disruption to the school day.
In addition to Klein, HISD has turned to other school districts around the country who have implemented one-to-one programs, both successful and unsuccessful, for best practices and guidance. This aspect of the PowerUp effort is getting national attention including recent coverage in Education Weekly and a blog post by education historian and policy analyst Diane Ravitch.