The Northern Valley Regional High School District (NVRHS) is comprised of two high schools in Bergen County, NJ with sending districts from four towns. The district serves approximately 2,600 students and is consistently ranked in the state’s yearly top public high schools.
In 2012, NVRHS knew they wanted to head towards a 1:1 computer program in their 2014 benchmark year. However, they wanted to have a content solution in place first.
“We wanted to give teachers time to create their virtual classroom first,” said Dave Janosz, Supervisor of Technology & Technology Education. “So we delayed the device purchasing a little bit.”
Dave assembled an LMS search committee comprised of teachers, supervisors, media specialists, and administrators. They reviewed presentations from several companies, but ultimately, PowerSchool Learning was the “consensus” choice, according to Dave.
“The number one reason people liked [PowerSchool Learning] was its simplicity and ease of use,” Dave said. Its flexibility to support different pedagogical approaches also played a role.
“There was a clear link between instructional practices that are a part of professional development and using [PowerSchool Learning] as the hub of everything, like flipped learning,” said Dave.
EASE OF USE LEADS TO QUICK ADOPTION
They began then in 2012 with a small group of teachers using the platform first, and their initial success convinced others to give it a try.
“Word quickly got around that it was easy to use from the first round of teachers, so the second level of adoption went very quickly,” said Dave.
In 2013-2014, everyone was required to use PowerSchool Learning, and in 2014-2015, they went 1:1 with MacBook Air® laptops.
According to Virginia Senande, a world language teacher, the simplicity eliminated a common headache for teachers:
“It’s taken away the excuses because it’s so easy to find materials, especially for Special Ed students, because it’s so much easier for them to use and find everything. It’s made it harder for students to say, ‘I couldn’t find this. I didn’t have that. I didn’t know that was due.’”
She says it also helps teachers when there’s a substitute: “We can post work for the students, and I can actually log in [from a workshop] if I want to see what they’re doing live, and grade all the materials.”
“I never thought that they would respond to discussions the way that they did with [PowerSchool Learning]. But it’s not like [other platforms] with the Facebook feel. It’s educational, and they understand that it’s educational. But they still feel freer to communicate with each other, and it gives language to students who don’t feel comfortable expressing themselves in class.”
Christine Massaro, also a social studies teacher, said she used to struggle with engaging students but now she has more options to appeal to different learning styles.
“If they’re visual learners, you can have pictures; if they’re auditory learners, there are hearing options. There are different options, even in the assessment feature. They have choices even for matching—they can do drag and drop if they’re more tactile or they can just click a drop down. Whatever is better for them. Students can adapt it to their own preferences.”
Some teachers are finding creative uses for assessments to improve learning.
“A lot of times for a foreign language, the homework will be that they have to use a certain verb tense. I will tell them to keep doing a practice quiz until they get 100,” said Jennifer Mezzina, a world language teacher. “I can then track how many times it takes them, and then depending on how much they practice at home, you can see their performance improve.”
MEETING NEW STATE STANDARDS WITH WIKIPROJECTS
WikiProjects gives students their own online space to create and collaborate using a curated library of web apps amongst a suite of other tools. NVRHS teachers are using it to help students develop 21st century skills.
“With PARCC and Common Core, they talk about interactive essays where you have pictures and multimedia,” said David Caminiti, an English teacher. “As [students] started working on their interactive essays, it seemed less like a Word doc and more like a web page. So we did individual WikiProjects and they each had their own space to put their pictures and writing.”
In the world language classroom, Jonathan Gray is using it to help foster collaboration while learning Spanish:
“They’re responsible for taking pictures of vehicles using ThingLink and AudioBoom. ThingLink is picture-based. AudioBoom is audio files. We do target language through AudioBoom. They take that and embed it all through [PowerSchool] in WikiProjects. They work with their group mates—you’re responsible for these aspects, you’re responsible for those aspects, and just put it all through [PowerSchool Learning].”
INTEGRATIONS UNIFY CLASSROOM EXPERIENCE
In addition to the PowerSchool Learning platform, NVRHS uses PowerSchool SIS, an integration that streamlines the transfer of student data between the two systems.
“The [PowerSchool Learning-PowerSchool SIS] integration has saved our admin team a lot of time with automated user account creation as well as regular class and roster updates,” said Dave. “Our teachers no longer have to do duplicate gradebook entry in both systems for PowerSchool assignments and assessments, and with the grade push our parents get faster and easier access to those grades.”
The district is going to leverage the seamless, single sign-on that PowerSchool Learning has with a very popular tool in K-12 today:
“We’re moving towards integrating with Google Apps for Education,” said Dave, which will give teachers real-time access to content, additional online file storage, and further abilities to collaborate in meaningful ways—all without leaving PowerSchool Learning.
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