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Houston High School Students Get Laptops Next Year

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In his February state of the district speech, Houston superintendent Terry Grier pitched the idea of giving every high school student a laptop. "This is a way of transforming what and how we teach," Grier told the school board in April. The rollout starts with teachers in 10 schools getting laptops this summer. Students get theirs in January.

Leading the project is Chief Technology Information Officer Lenny Schad, who joined HISD in January (and hit the ground running). Grier hired Schad based on his tech leadership in Katy ISD, a western Houston suburb that was an early adopter of web 2.0 apps like Edmodo and bring-your-own-device strategies.

Schad said he was frustrated by the perception that big districts can't lead the shift to digital learning. "We have an opportunity to show people," said Schad. This shift is inevitable, "it's not if, it's when." Schad is committed to working with his colleagues to make the transition successful for teachers and students.

Houston ISD issued an RFP for Windows laptops in April, "always an interesting process," said Schad. After several cycles with a couple of vendors, he said they achieved their targeted pricing. The package includes leased laptops, dedicated onsite support, loss and damage protection, as well as phone and online support.

With other districts picking tablets, Schad thinks "the keyboard is an important facet especially for high school students."

They didn't consider Chromebooks because the rate of home internet access is still pretty low. Schad is working with the city and providers to boost broadband access.

Our implementation team has "walked campuses to identify and observe early adopters--we will incorporate them and leverage their leadership in the rollout." He anticipates the teacher leaders will add "breadth and depth" to the deployment. Schad plans to spend time planning and preparing with school leaders this summer.

The laptop project is primarily funded with repurposed budgets--one of the lessons learned from early movers like Mooresville North Carolina (which is featured in Funding the Shift).

Edmodo will be the learning platform in 2013-14. Instructional materials will include a lot of "open content and free web 2.0 tools."

Schad is thinking hard about strategies to support and measure teacher development and student engagement.

Disclosure: Edmodo is a Learn Capital portfolio company where Tom is a partner.

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