March 16, 2015
Digital Learning Snapshot: Horry County Schools, Conway, SC
This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about digital learning innovation in school districts. See our first post, introducing the series, and posts on Clark County, Nevada and Washington DC Public Schools.
Horry County Schools (HCS) offers and is further developing a set of digital learning options that include the following:
- Continuing roll-out of district-wide Personalized Digital Learning, extending from middle school in early 2014 to high school in fall 2014, and expanding to grade 5 in all 27 elementary schools in 2015 with plans to add grades 3-4 in the future.
- A low-performing, high-poverty middle school (Whittemore Park) that the district is turning around using blended learning in a competency-based learning setting.
- The Horry County Virtual School (HCVS), which provides supplemental online high school courses to district students. It offers both original credit and credit recovery courses and totaled 3,500 course enrollments in SY 2013–14.
Several efforts in place in the district have supported the move to digital learning. HCS has traditionally relied heavily on data to differentiate classroom instruction, using the Northwest Evaluation Association’s (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) as well as state assessments to track student progress. Regular administrative meetings were often used as professional learning opportunities to discuss data and student progress, and teachers and administrators frequently collaborated to make meaningful use of student data to improve outcomes. During these collaborations, district staff decided that blended learning was the logical “next step in the journey.”
In 2013, HCS decided to move to personalized digital learning for all of its students over the course of the next three years. Because district leaders believed that teachers and students should have a role in designing how digital learning would be implemented in each school, design teams of students, teachers, and administrators were formed at schools across the district, and implementation varies between schools.
To augment the district’s efforts, it received a Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) grant in October 2012 to help its efforts to use digital learning to turn around Whittemore Park Middle School. In fall 2013 the school implemented the iCAN (individualized, college and career readiness, aspirations of students, and network of support) model designed to blend core subjects and provide an increased level of student support. Fluid groups of about 100 students meet with four academic teachers for 300 minutes each day. About 75% of that time is digital learning instruction. Each week students also meet in advisory groups that are static and experience a variety of exploratory classes. The school is located in an urban setting where over 85% of the students participate in the free and reduced lunch program.
Digital learning content and tools
A wide array of digital content is used in in the district’s virtual school program (Horry County Virtual School), and in its personal digital learning based schools. All core middle school subjects use digital content. The district started with English language arts and math and has expanded to social studies and science, where digital textbooks are often utilized. The virtual school uses a mix of vendor-provided courses with those developed in the district. Most of this content is integrated with the district’s learning management system. Students in grades 5–12 are being issued tablets, though the devices are different for high schools. The high school device has an integrated keyboard, while the elementary and middle school device does not. The school board has approved up to $600 per student per device.
Teaching and staffing
Teachers and administrators are participating in professional development to understand how to teach effectively in a blended learning classroom. In addition, six digital integration specialists were hired to support existing staff with the blended learning implementation. Each building has a curriculum coach who collaborates with digital integration specialists and content learning specialists to support blended learning in the classroom.
Most teaching at HCVS is through 15 part-time teachers, and for some low enrollment courses the teaching and content are supplied by an outside provider. The district’s executive director of online learning and instructional technology leads HCVS. A learning specialist for online learning and curriculum monitoring supports the director and handles day-to-day operations and enrollment requests. An administrative support/clerk position also plays an integral role in supporting HCVS administrators, teachers and students. These are the only three positions totally dedicated to HCVS. HCVS also receives as-needed support from the district’s curriculum staff and the technology staff; however, these positions are not dedicated to HCVS
Responsibility for the district’s Personalized Digital Learning Initiative spans several departments. The chief academic officer and the executive director of online learning and instructional technology serve as project leads on the instructional side. The chief accountability/technology officer and executive director for technology serve as project leads on the hardware side. Although these positions already existed at HCS, the board approved six new positions to assist teachers in making the shift to blended learning. The six new digital integration specialists report directly to the executive director for online learning and instructional technology.
General fund monies are used to cover most of the costs of implementing and executing blended learning. Student devices and building infrastructure are purchased through a capital fund supported by a $.01 local sales tax.
HCS is putting into place an impressive district-wide plan for personalized digital learning that builds on previous use of data by district schools, widespread adoption of tablets for students in grades 3–12, a whole school turnaround based on digital learning, and a district virtual school. Digital options are focused on the core subject areas at each level. The district relies on school leadership teams from each level to assist in selecting and adopting digital content options across schools.