By Sara Martin
The eighth Digital Learning Environment Event was held in downtown Denver, Colorado on April 29, 2010. The day started off with a keynote by William R. Kurts, Chief Executive Officer, Denver School of Science and Technology Public Schools.
Bill currently serves as the CEO of Denver School of Science and Technology Public Schools (DSST), a charter school management organization that oversees 3 secondary schools with plans to open 2 more in the next 5 years. They plan to eventually service 4,000 students. Bill was the Founding Head of DSST, the flagship schools of Denver Public Schools. He was named one of 25 champions of public education in Denver over the last 25 years by the Public Education Business Coalition. He also serves on the Advisory Council of the University of Southern California’s Rossier Schoo0lo of Education MAT program.
The first DSST school was founded in 2004. It started out as a school with a technology emphasis. There are now 3 schools with an emphasis on STEM. All schools are public with open enrollment-these are not magnet schools. One seventh of all DPS 8th graders applied for the program. Students are selected through lottery only so the selection is completely random. Campuses are generally 6-12th grade. The plan is to have 5 campuses in Denver by 2014.
The students are an accurate representation of all students in the urban Denver area, with 45% in the free and reduced category and 67% minority. The philosophy is inclusive, with an emphasis on the idea that everyone should be served well by the public school system. A video showed students that now take pride is being categorized as “a nerd” and proclaim that “we affirm who you are-you have important gifts and we will challenge you and hold you accountable”. Another student noted in the video that, “Teachers let me know my own strength”.
Here are some amazing facts about DSST that were shared:
• 100% of the students that graduated for the last 3 years were accepted into a 4 year college!
• The District is of 6 finalists for the White House Race to the Top Commencement Challenge.
• The District has the highest results in Colorado in both growth and achievement
• The Districts low performing kids are outperforming all the subgroups of all students in Colorado
• The percentage of college bound graduates that have to take remediation classes are only 7%. Contrast this with 56% of DPS and 32% of Colorado State graduates.
The vision of the district is a 100% graduation rate and a 100% college acceptance rate. Bill emphasizes that every kids should have the choice to go to college. When kids have the choice to go to college, according to Bill, most DO chose to go. Right now only 1 in 4 has the choice in Denver. Only 1 in 10 students go on to get a college degree and only 1 in 20 low income students earn a degree. The goal of DSST is to get 64% of their students to earn their degrees.
Can DSST transform DPS? Is it hopelessly naïve or realistically achievable? Bill’s enthusiasm, passion and devotion to the cause are amazing and admirable. It will be interesting to watch the district in the next few years.
Bill also noted that the move toward 1:1 computing is inevitable. It is a core principal in the districts design. Mobile, multi-media based learning will supplement traditional classroom instruction eventually. We need to make a commitment to get to 1:1. It will be an integral part of everything that we do at school. He explained that every student, regardless of race or background, has better technology in their pockets than most students have in their computer labs. Further, it is his observation that everyone uses cell phones regardless of the income level.
Bill also emphasized that technology is not the only way to deliver instruction but it can support traditional approaches and make them much better.
DSST has hp laptops for every student. The program was birthed with generous grants from hp and overtime has transitioned to being funded by the district’s general fund. Students are charged a tech fee of $150 per year with allowances made for those students who are not able to pay. There is a self insurance program in place with student deductibles and fees if loss or damage occurs.
These were noted as pre-conditions for success:
• Clear measurable goals
• Strong school culture (embrace change, get adults to see the power of the changes and be willing to be learners, a learning culture is alive in the school, the vision that supports the overall goals and vision of the school)
• Teachers and staff are learners first
• An organizational vision that incorporates technology, but doe not make the technology the “end”
The program creates a personalized learning environment. On a daily basis technology is used as needed to achieve the goals for the day. That might mean 100% of the time or less. It is powerfully used in both the educational and administrative processes. Individualized instruction through data collection and analysis is used to drive instruction. Classes are projects based and electives include film, bridge building, simulations in physics and other powerful STEM learning activities. The technology in the hands of the students allows them to drive their own instruction. The district also uses Camtasia software to record lessons so that students can replay instructions as needed.
Bill ended his presentation with some questions. 1:1-what is it? What does is look like? What will it look like in the future? Tablets, cell phones, readers, etc are all changing so rapidly that we can’t know for sure what they will look like in the near future. What we do know that we have to make this work; we have to rise to the challenge, because our kid’s futures depend on it.
There are two FREE remaining DLE events coming to a city near you:
Minneapolis – May 5, 2010
Raleigh-Durham – May 11, 2010
Find out more and to register for the events, visit: http://www.guide2digitallearning.com