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Q&A With a Rural Superintendent

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Oklahoma Chief Janet Barresi points to Howe High School in Southeastern Oklahoma as a digital learning leader. Superintendent Scott Parks leads a 1:1 district that makes extensive use of online learning. "It is amazing what they are accomplishing," said Barresi. The state board will be visiting Howe this month.

TVA: Where is Howe Public Schools?
SP: Howe High School is part of the Howe School District comprised of 510 students grades EC-12 and serving 145 of these students in our high school. We are located in the Southeastern part of the State of Oklahoma approximately 3 hours from OKC, 2 hours from Tulsa and about one hour from Fort Smith, AR. Our school supports a District wide 1:1 laptop initiative to provide for differentiated instruction through all grade levels.

TVA: What digital learning strategies does your district use?
SP: Specific to our high school, we currently use several online learning strategies to meet the needs of our students. Some that come to mind to support our students in their instructional opportunities are Discovery Education, Atomic Learning, Think Thru Math, IXL Math, and Spelling and Vocabulary City.

These portals are used to assist teachers in developing curriculum and interventions for our students as they seek to meet their individual needs. We are also using curriculum portal A+nyWhere to provide online content across all grade levels and subject areas.

The online programing sites mentioned were implemented by the school to provide our teachers a core base to work directly with the shift from textbooks to laptops. Our strategy was to give the teachers enough curricular support that they could start with to embrace the use of technology in the instructional process, but then build on this base to include teacher created curriculum that is managed through one of our two course management systems Edmodo and/or Moodle. Our teachers actively engage their students through a combination of all of these online learning resources providing for a more engaged learner and stronger elements of differentiated instruction.

TVA: What about online learning?
SP: We are also implementing online learning through Connections Learning to provide for self-paced courses that will allow our students to progress at their own pace as well as gain access to courses that our school would not otherwise be able to offer. Our high school is also looking to offer a full time online learning opportunity to students that would benefit from this venue. In addition, we actively meet our high school students needs by providing online college learning opportunities allowing for dual high school/college credit. This is also enhanced by many college courses that we provide for our students through H.323 (video over IP) distance learning.

We have shared classes with other districts using live interactive video conferencing for Spanish, AP English, and AP History.

TVA: How does your 1:1 program work?
SP: In pre-K and Kindergarten we use learning centers. We're 1:1 in grades 1-12 with take home options in grades 3-12 with about 80% participate. We fund self-insurance with $20 user fee. Parents must attend an annual session.

TVA: What has been challenging?
SP: Changing mindsets about authentic engagement. We're so hardwired into the factory model, it is a challenge to create a dynamically changing the instructional environment.

We put pressure on ourselves; we started in 4th grade with laptop, then asked "what does 5th grade look like." We wanted to get better, more authentic and, as a result, kids are having quality experiences.

TVA: What advice would you give other rural districts?
SP: I have a hard time understanding why schools wouldn't test the waters with online learning, that's the world they are going to enter. It's our responsibility to give them quality experiences.

Make a commitment to technology and to work smarter not harder.

Connections Education is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner. Edmodo is a Learn Capital company where Tom Vander Ark is a partner.

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