Washington School District Superintendent Lori VanLeer

The Washington School District took another step forward in its digital initiative with the purchase of a learning management system, or LMS, to be implemented over time districtwide.

The school board last Wednesday approved a one-year agreement with Schoology, a web-based software program that will allow teachers to manage and disperse content to students.

Teachers will be able to create assignments, assessments, discussion boards and countless other options all online.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Judy Straatmann said students eventually will be able to submit and manage their homework online, while getting feedback from their teachers, view a video from a previous class to review for a test, and take part in online discussion with their teacher and classmates outside of classroom.

“It’s another teaching tool,” said Straatmann, which can benefit students with varied learning styles.

For example, a teacher could have handouts that walk students through a topic, a video that explains the material, and an interactive lesson or simulation to prove a hands-on approach.

“Using Schoology’s engaging tools, educators can create custom courses, pace students individually and differentiate instruction,” Straatmann told the board.

This type of learning also will prepare students for the future, school officials said.

According to the Campus Computing Project “more than 90 percent of all colleges and universities” are currently utilizing LMS systems.

Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said the transition to the digital system will not happen overnight and tiered training will be provided to staff.

“Some teachers will be able to jump right in and use it, while others will need ongoing training and assistance and we’re prepared to do that,” she said.

Implementation will begin at the start of the new school year in August with an emphasis on third and fourth grades districtwide. Those students will all have laptop carts to utilize when they return to the classroom.

The following year, laptop carts will be purchased for use by all fifth- and ninth-graders, and that same rotation will occur over the next several years until eventually all third through high school classrooms are fully engaged digitally.

Officials said the system will immediately be available to all teachers, some of whom are already piloting different technology in their classrooms and students who are bringing their devices from home.

“It’s very exciting as we work our way toward a more paperless environment,” VanLeer told The Missourian. “The goal is to get to a 1 (student)-1 (device) learning environment. That could take five years or more, but that’s our goal.”

Several school board members did ask how the district will address the issue of students not having Internet access or who may not have a computer or other device at home to complete assignments.

Straatmann said the district is looking at different options on how to address that problem as it expands digitally. She said students could store information on a flash drive and the district is looking into keeping school libraries open later so those students could complete their work.

If there are no options that might work for a student, they could be given an alternate assignment, she said.

The overall cost for the one-year contract with Schoology is approximately $30,000.

Schoology is now in more than 25,000 schools and organizations across more than 132 countries worldwide.

The district also has formed a partnership with the Mooresville Graded School District, a K-12 school district 20 miles outside of Charlotte, N.C.

Mooresville undertook a major digital conversion in 2007 and is now considered one of the leaders in transforming schools through technology.

A team from Washington visited Mooresville April 15 and in mid-August, Mooresville teachers will come here for two days and train staff.