An education transformation is underway in Mesa.
And it’s not going to come about by simply putting a computer or tablet in the hands of students, school leaders say.
Superintendent Mike Cowan on Tuesday presented the Mesa Unified School District governing board with a draft report showing how he would like to “loosen up” the way the district has always done things to allow a way for students to engage in individualized learning.
“This is about moving MPS (Mesa Public Schools) to be a top tier school in the nation,” Cowan said.
The district will add technology to classrooms, Cowan told the board, but it’s not going to be, “Look, we gave them a device. We transformed education!”
“It’s really to take a system that’s worked successfully for years, but was built on an industrial revolution model of moving batches of children through learning,” he said. “We need to create 21st Century learners who are prepared for the unknown economy of the future.”
The first steps, Cowan said, will be sending out “exploration teams” to examine what creative ideas are working in other schools. There isn’t one single model out there that will be used, but a combination of ideas from across the country, he said.
Then the district will create “early innovation teams” that will be given technology, professional development and support to use the ideas gathered.
Those teams will participate in a “technology showcase” where they can learn about digital learning resources, from software to hardware. They will then take what they’ve learned to use it in classrooms next school year to see what works best, before it’s expanded district wide.
“We want to engage technology to help our teachers and students increase learning and achievement,” Cowan said.
Through a piece of the $230 million bond program approved by voters in November, the district is improving Internet connectivity around the schools, which will make a huge impact toward providing digital-based learning, Bobette Sylvester, assistant superintendent of business and support services said.
“We’re reprogramming the system to work for us,” she told the board.
The district is also exploring partnerships with Dell and Google that could bring products to students. In addition, the district will look at more ways for students to bring their own technology, known as “bring your own device,” and still connect to the Internet on campuses.
Community, staff and parents will come together in committees to address different issues the district may face as it goes under these changes, Cowan said. One of the first will look at students’ responsible and ethical use of technology.
All of this is coming when there is a focus across the country on individual learning at schools. Technology allows that to happen, as it’s difficult for a teacher to differentiate education before a class of 30 students, Cowan said.
“We’re trying to personalize learning at levels we’ve never been able to do before,” Cowan told the Tribune. “We want to be able to take the lid off so our accelerated students can go as far as they want to and to provide intervention for students,” in need.
District school board members responded favorably to Cowan’s ideas.
As teachers see other teachers trying new methods, it could be “infectious,” board member Mike Nichols said.
“They’ll see the actions of this teacher working and say, ‘I want to do it,’” he said.
Steve Peterson said he would like to see an “innovation” team at each high school.
Michelle Udall said these ideas could be used to work on “trouble areas.”
“I’d like to see technology used to help us significantly raise the bar.”
It won’t all happen between now and August, when the new school year begins. But there will be significant movement toward the goal, he said.
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