“Our 1:1 program has enabled us to do much more with each student.” – Dr. Bruce McDade, superintendent of Manassas Park City Schools.
“The biggest change has been with student engagement.” – Director of Special Programs Jennifer Braswell-Geller.
“While we can’t definitely say there is a causal relationship, as we’ve measured increases with instructional technology usage, student performance has also increased,” – Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Jeff Jackson.
“With Extreme Networks, we built a very strong foundation for the digital initiative and 1:1 program. The initiative requires flexibility to make changes all the time, and our Extreme network makes this easy.” – Director of Technology Matt McCormack
Manassas Park City Schools (MPCS) is in year 4 of an amazingly-successful one-to-one (1:1) computing program for their students. The racially-diverse district, located 30 miles southwest of Washington, DC, includes two elementary schools (Pre-K through 2nd and 3rd through 5th), one middle school and one high school with a total of 3400 students and 450 staff. Approximately 60% of the students participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
The project began back in 2013, when Dr. McDade asked an exploratory group to research the 1:1 concept and see what it could mean to MPCS. The group spent time in North Carolina with Mooresville Graded School District to learn more about successful, public school 1:1 blended learning environments. After researching and exploring similar school districts and programs, MPCS applied for and was ultimately awarded a grant from the Virginia Department of Education which would providing funding to initiate our teaching and learning transformation. Key staff already employed within the district were identified to lead the planning, preparation and implementation of the initiative, MPCS Connects!
The MPCS Connects! team recognized five critical areas as foundations of building a solid program.
- Teaching and learning (instructional)
- Professional development
- Infrastructure (IT)
The 1:1 program roll-out began in the fall of 2014 with a pilot for the 9th grade, ESOL, and AP students. The pilot was implemented by the instructional staff and administration that had visited Mooresville and who had participated in specialized and focused professional development. These teachers and students helped build enthusiasm in the program which only furthered the excitement for a full transformation of teaching and learning.
The full roll-out to remaining 9th, 10th, and 11th grades came later that school year. The school held off extending the program to the 12th grade, since seniors have a shorter year. Following reflection of the first implementation and necessary adjustments, the program expanded with the 8th grade the following August.
This year, the 1-1 program has been expanded and implemented throughout grades 5 to 12. There are some differences within the program based on grade, for example, 5th graders keep their devices at school, rather than taking them home as they do in middle and high school.
Each time the program is extended, the same pattern is followed: pilot, followed by reflection and adjustments, then expanded implementation. This is preceded by a multi-faceted approach of teacher professional development and resources.
The infrastructure behind the 1:1 program, and interconnecting all the educational technology at MPCS, is Extreme Networks. Although the network requirements can be complicated and layered, it is so solid it tends to be invisible. Because of their achievements in implementing a 1:1 learning environment alongside the results they’ve accomplished, Manassas Park was awarded Extreme Networks’ Exemplary School Award.
The 1-1 learning environment supports the district’s blended style of learning. Associate Superintendent Dr. Jackson emphasized that learning at MPCS is not exclusively digital, but a complementary mix of digital with face-to-face and hands-on learning. In science class, the traditional experiment of building a volcano that erupts with baking soda and vinegar is now enhanced with digital video of actual volcanos. Students can watch Pangea breaking apart in digital formats which we see are much more engaging. In biology class, it is now much easier to do virtual dissections. Recorded lessons are captured for students who may miss class to be viewed anytime, anywhere. Next year virtual reality will be used in the middle school to further enhance the learning experience.
Digital On-line Assessments
Digital online testing is used for assessing learning across all core content in grades 2-12. Star 360 is used for skill-based math and reading assessments and PowerTest it utilized for benchmark testing. Students can take the tests on their own devices in the classroom environment. Thanks to the new technology and the 1:1 program, they’ve been able to reduce the time dedicated to high stakes testing from 6-7 days down to four days.
The results as measured by the state-mandated Standards of Learning (SOL) test have been extremely positive. The SOL scores have shown remarkable improvement. The 1:1 program enables teachers to personalize their teaching to better meet the individual needs of each student. Anytime anywhere access to digital resources provides a significant increase in the tools available to teachers to monitor student progress throughout the school year.
The Manassas Park City Schools network infrastructure is 100% Extreme Networks. The core switches are the Extreme Networks S-Series with a top ring of X460s running at 10G. The wireless network includes 310 access points in every class and shared space controlled by 2x 410 controllers with redundant roll-over and one NAC. The Wi-Fi covers a total of 990,000 square feet across all schools. The district is considering expanding the Extreme network to their stadium press box, ticket booth, and concession stand.
New Class Schedules
In parallel with the roll-out of the 1:1 program, Dr. McDade and his staff felt it was significant that the schools modify their schedule to accommodate a more balanced program. One result of this was to prevent loss of educational momentum over the summer. Here is the gist of the MCSP schedule.
- The school moved from an A/B block schedule, where periods 1-4 occur on A days and periods 5-8 take place on B days, to a 4×4 block schedule, where students have four subjects in the fall and four in the spring.
- Manassas Park stretched the school year to 189 days by reducing breaks and shortening the summer shutdown. This was challenging due to a Virginia law that prevents school from officially opening prior to Labor Day. They have been able to begin in mid-August with the help of an extended year planning grant of $50,000 and an implementation grant for year 2. Students who need extra help can catch up during intersession times. The extended calendar also provides important nutritional benefits through the school lunch program.
- MPCS operates on a quarter grading cycle. Intersessions are offered at the end of quarter one and three. They are voluntary and are designed to provide enrichment opportunities for students followed by a one week fall and spring break in which schools are closed. Intersession weeks are also an opportunity to provide remediation services as well test preparation. The school year concludes on June 15. After a three week break, summer school begins. Before the new school year starts, students have another two weeks of vacation. Approximately 300-400 kids participate in summer school.
To combat bullying, MPCS hired a part-time psychologist and purchased the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program for their elementary school. The high school has been part of the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program for three year. They also use the Safe Schools Alerts, an anonymous incident reporting and tracking system.
Summary Recommendations for Implementing Digital Initiatives and 1:1 Computing Programs
Dr. McDade and his team have these three overall recommendations for schools as they start to plan and implement digital initiatives and 1:1 computing programs. These were the guiding principles that enabled MPCS to experience their successful increases in the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) scores with upticks across all grades and subjects across their diverse population.
- Build a solid and purposeful plan; Don’t rush!
- Start small with a pilot then expand
- Create a nurturing culture
“It’s the culture: you could feel the culture of the school, how teachers really care about their students. It’s culture first and foremost, kept alive by leadership, that enables things to fall in place. If you believe that opportunities should be afforded to kids who don’t have them, I think this is one of the intangibles you are lucky to have in a small school division like ours.” – Jennifer Braswell Geller, Director of Special Programs
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