A Student-Centered Tech Initiative

An Aggressive Conversion to Digital Puts the Focus on Students and Teachers
Cebron Walker


Beatriz Arnillas, the Senior Manager of Instructional Technology at Houston ISD recently attended the Learning Counsel National Gathering and shared highlights of their PowerUp initiative.

When PowerUp was announced two years ago, Beatriz became one of the key players in organizing the digital transition. “The first thing we thought about was our pedagogical model—what did one-on-one really mean? How could we utilize technology to enhance and transform teaching and learning? If teachers and students are going to have devices, what does this mean in the classroom? And when they go home? Do their homes have WiFi? If not, how much storage will they need overnight for homework? We’re a large urban district, so a lot of our students come from low-income homes where wifi might not be available.”

Acting as a senior technical consultant to all the schools in the system, Beatriz sits on a number of committees and strategic decision-making groups. When the transition was launched, she was able to work with other leaders on critical decisions about devices, content and infrastructure.

“When you purchase a textbook, you’re making a purchase for 10 years,” said Beatriz. “In a district this size, we’re talking about a sizeable budget. How would that kind of planning apply to digital curriculum?” With millions of dollars in curriculum materials to be considered Houston focused first on their strategy. For the past year, every curriculum adoption at the high school level in HISD has been completely digital.

“That’s digital, not digitized,” Beatriz clarifies. And when it is absolutely indispensable to get paper and ink, even at pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, Beatriz’s groups are taking a very close look. “You still have to ask,” said Beatriz, “What will they be doing at this level in ten years?” She added, “These are hard decisions.” Houston realized early on that such decisions cannot be made aloof in the central office, remote from the classrooms and teachers that will be impacted.

“You have to make sure that every department and stakeholder is involved. These decisions cannot be made in isolation by the curriculum department. When you begin this process, you have to find the solutions together.”

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