Personalized Learning at Center Stage

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After 3 years of research, Pasadena, TX ISD brings in successful personalized learning program
By: 
Cebron Walker, Editor-in-Chief

The Learning Counsel met with Vickie Vallet-McWilliams, the Director of Instructional Technology of Pasadena ISD, at our annual mid-winter networking breakfast for education executives. She shared the latest news on their program to implement a model for personalized learning based on the Summit Public School program out of the California Bay Area. 

Pasadena ISD (in Texas, not California) has approximately 58,000 students and 8,000 teachers. They are just outside of Houston in Southeastern Texas. 

Their transition started three years ago when leadership sat down at the table to make a change. They found the funding that allowed them to explore and travel and see the models that were out there for personalized learning. "We realized our students were falling through the cracks," stated Vickie. "We weren’t meeting all of their needs. We felt personalized learning met their needs. 

Her team travelled the U.S. looking at good models. Summit Public Schools in the San Francisco Bay Area was one they kept going back to because their model matched Pasadena's philosophy. 

Pasadena trained a group of teachers last summer at Summit Public Schools in their "Summit Basecamp." With their teachers back they began their pilot with 350 kids in the 6th, 7th and 8th grades.  The students are not sitting at traditional desks and they learned at their own pace. The kids are choosing their own content, working through all of the things that they need to work through the way they want to learn. Students, in Vickie's words, "are truly owning their own learning. We talked about it forever and its now actually happening in Pasadena." 

According to administrators, the student attendance is higher, discipline is lower and scores are outstanding.  

"The work we’re doing, we’re proud of because it’s actually working. You think about these things, you plan for them, you hope it’s going to work – it’s amazing how quickly this worked." 

Another point Vickie made in the interview was that leadership and the teachers in the pilot had to "be all in, fully invested in the plan."  

Vickie told us that all aspects of the schooling experience are being adjusted:  instruction, parent engagement, communication, PD (Personal Development) for teachers. "We really had to look at a teacher who wanted this. They were all-in, no questions and they were willing to make it work and work really hard to make it work." The teachers were, per Vickie, the central most important factor in the success so far. They went to two weeks of training over the summer and then stayed at it with ongoing support from Summit (which has been a vital aspect as well). 

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