Principals, Board Members Test-Drive Tablets

Guilford County Schools (GCS) staff turned the tables on middle school principals on Thursday, April 11. Principals became students during a surprise demonstration of new tablet technology that could be in the hands of every middle school student by 2015.

"I think it's very exciting. I think a lot of our teachers are going to be very excited about this," said Northwest Middle Principal Rich Thomae. "There are incredible possibilities for administrators to see what is happening in the classroom, right from one device."

The hands-on demonstration was intended to show middle school principals exactly how the Personalized Achievement, Curriculum and Environment (PACE) project can use technology to transform classrooms.

"This technology means our students will have access to true personalized learning, with tools to explore their classes, their interests and their individual skill levels," said Superintendent Maurice "Mo" Green. "Students who want to dig deeper into subjects that interest them can do that, while students who need a little extra time can take it without feeling the pressure to rush."

The PACE project is the signature initiative for the 2016 Strategic Plan. Funded by a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the project will create and stimulate student-led, personalized learning in all GCS middle schools, reaching 17,000 students. The district also received another $5.2 million in optional grant funding to support the PACE project through Guilford Parent Academy, the African-American Male Achievement Initiative and a GCS Virtual Public Middle School.

The PACE project with start this fall with students in 18 middle schools. The remaining six middle schools will join the program in the 2014-15 school year. Each student will have a tablet that is filled with all of the lessons and assignments for their classes, as well as research tools and secure Internet access. Teachers can access lesson plans and materials aligned with the Common Core State Standards, creating "playlists" of multimedia materials tied to the day's activities. They can also do spot-check quizzes during lessons to ensure all students are on track.

"We have been describing this technology to our principals since we learned we won the federal grant," said Dr. Terrence Young, chief information officer for GCS. "It's hard to visualize and understand how this can change teaching and learning until you hold the tablet in your hands and see what it can do."

The middle school principals were test-driving tablets provided by Amplify . The company creates digital products and services to engage students. Amplify currently serves more than 200,000 educators and 3 million students.

Amplify was one of seven companies that submitted 11 responses to GCS' Request for Proposals. A committee of GCS staff from across the district evaluated all the responses and narrowed the list to three companies. Those companies presented their proposals in person. After carefully reviewing all the proposals, the staff is recommending that the Board of Education select Amplify to provide GCS with the tablet and its integrated content. On Thursday, representatives from Amplify demonstrated the tablets for middle school principals. Board members tested the tablets during their work session at noon on Thursday, April 11.

Next, the Board of Education will decide whether GCS staff can move ahead with contract negotiations with Amplify. That item is expected to be on the agenda for the Tuesday, April 16 Board meeting. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the Board Room at 712 N. Eugene St., Greensboro.