ISD 294 Houston Public Schools
Kim Ross is a pioneer for virtual learning in his state. Using a non-traditional approach to solving a traditional problem (declining student enrollment), he has taken a small, rural district of about 450 K-12 students tucked away in the southeastern corner of Minnesota and transformed it into a vibrant, financially sound school system now serving nearly 2,500 pupils from around the state, thanks to his creation of the Minnesota Virtual Academy.
The academy itself enrolls more than 2,000 students, with one program serving students in grades K-8 and another serving those in grades 9-12. Students attending traditional schools in Houston also can take online courses through the academy, supplementing the instruction they receive in the classroom with Advanced Placement offerings and other online courses. This ability is a key factor in the success of Houston High, which was featured in U.S. News and World Report as one of “America’s Best High Schools.”
Ross is also a founding team member of the Minnesota Center of Online Learning, and in 2008 he received an appointment to the Minnesota Broadband Task Force. He was elected chair of the South East Minnesota Network in 2007 and is a legislative committee member of the Minnesota Online Learning Alliance.
Abington School District
As superintendent of Abington School District, a diverse suburban district of about 7,000 students just outside Philadelphia, Amy Sichel has fostered an environment of innovation that is directly responsible for landing several highly coveted ed-tech grants.
An educator for more than 30 years and former school principal, Sichel believes technology can help level the playing field for all students. Her vision was recognized nationally in 2006 when Dell, Microsoft, and Intel chose Abington Senior High School from among more than 1,000 applicants for the companies’ FutureReady Education Visionary contest. The high school received more than $250,000 in equipment to establish a program that provides flexible, contextual, ubiquitous learning using handheld technologies to differentiate instruction.
The FutureReady project was conceived as an integral part of the district’s Opportunities to Learn initiative, a nationally recognized reform effort that provides a rigorous college-preparatory education to students of all backgrounds and capabilities, including special-needs students. This program has been recognized by the Delaware Valley Minority Student Achievement Consortium and in national forums for its measurable progress in reducing the achievement gap.
Abington also was one of the first school systems chosen to participate in Pennsylvania’s Classrooms for the Future program, which provided laptop computers and other interactive, one-to-one technologies for core subject-area classrooms in high schools across the state. This effort has had a dramatic effect on student engagement and has encouraged a move away from static, teacher-centered instruction. In 2007, the district received an $80,000 grant to establish Pennsylvania’s first educational cyber cafe, giving high school students an informal environment in which to collaborate and learn using various technologies after school.
Also that year, two of Abington’s elementary schools were chosen to receive Technology for Learning grants from Hewlett-Packard. It’s no coincidence that Abington was one of the only districts in the country to win two of these grants; Sichel encourages her staff members to develop innovative grant ideas by giving them administrative support and modest financial recognition for successful programs that bring additional technologies to the district. In this case, teachers were able to use mobile technologies secured through the HP grants to support hands-on experiments in science classes and video and music production for students with special needs.
Sichel’s peers also have recognized her accomplishments. She recently received an award from the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators for innovative use of technology, and she was named the 2010 Pennsylvania Superintendent of the Year as well.