Hall County, Georgia serves over 25,000 students in 33 K-12 schools stretching 40 miles. This hidden gem has all of the beauty that Georgia has to offer and is less than 45 miles from downtown Atlanta. Most people I speak with haven’t heard of Hall County, but they should. That’s because with the guidance of an energetic superintendent, CIO, leadership team and committed classroom educators, Hall County is transforming its school system one student at a time. Two years ago Hall County partnered with Dell to define what next generation teaching and learning will look like and put a plan in place to achieve that vision. At the heart of the vision are four key ideals:
In order to make this vision a reality, the district had to assemble some fundamental components. First, they needed to send their ideas to the school board for approval and set a board goal that would support their shift to this new learning environment. The board asked the district to ensure each classroom would be blended within five years by requiring all teachers to measurably enhance their 21st century instructional skills. This meant that every teacher would have the ability to implement the four key ideas mentioned above.
The next task was to create a learning platform that would bring together the district’s data and disparate learning resources. The administrators chose to work with an open architecture solution from Dell because they wanted a system that would grow with them and allow them to stitch together all of their critical learning resources. This integration allows them to connect the following systems: student information, data portal, learning management, gradebook, curriculum map, collaboration tools, portfolios, and digital assets (learning resources).
After the technology problem was solved the district knew that it would have to create a streamlined user interface that would support the shift in behavior that would transform the learning environment. The user interface and functionality in the platform had to be designed to support the shift to personalized and blended. Hall County worked hand-in-hand with Dell to define the requirements of that user interface and pilot it in their schools. The final release of the student user interface was delivered to the district on November 2, 2011 and the first group of students used the new interface for the entire 2011-2012 school year. In September the students saw the system for the first time and the 4th grade students were off and running with very few instructions. When the kids were asked if they would use this platform at home, every hand in the room shot up to show their enthusiasm for the new resources.
The teacher, school leader and parent interface will launch at the end of August and will be used this school year. The software allows students and teachers to collaborate, share information, personalize learning, learn formally and informally, and facilitate the critical learning operations in a school system (professional learning, share data, etc.). One example of functionality that came out of the Dell/Hall partnership was a backwards designed content creation tool that the district is using to align all of the new core content courses that they will roll out during the 2012-2013 school year. Finally, and most important, the district designed and began implementing a robust professional learning plan to support teacher and school leader growth as they transform their classrooms and schools to meet the needs of the learners. The district launched some professional development over the summer for close to 150 classroom educators and the process will continue throughout the school year. Teachers will learn face-to-face, online, through classroom coaching, and through classroom visits. Professional learning throughout the year will be both formal and informal and the learning platform will help facilitate professional learning every day. Also, since the district knows how important it is to provide professional learning for each school’s leadership, its administrators are in the initial phase of designing a program for transformation at the school level.
I wouldn’t believe that these types of classrooms existed if I hadn’t seen them for myself. When a group of dedicated educators get together with a shared vision that is designed to go beyond business-as-usual and support total transformation, they can achieve amazing things. Some will ask what the results are to support the claims of transformation. It is too early to determine if the learning platform is the reason that Dell and Hall County are meeting their desired outcomes, but early data does support that Phase One teachers are seeing increases in student learning, from state test scores to performance-based measures. Still, the best results have been walking into the classrooms and seeing students take ownership of their education in challenging and engaging environments.