Jim Hirsch is the associate superintendent for academic and technology services for the Plano, Texas, school system. During Hirsch’s tenure in Plano, the district has built a reputation for embedding technology into learning and the management of schools.
• Listen to the full audio interview with Hirsch.
Your district has developed a performance-management system. How has it evolved to meet the changing needs of your schools?
Hirsch: As we’ve gone from simply providing access to our teachers in our classrooms to standardized-test scores and the typical assessment types of reports everyone is working on, we’ve taken a better look at truly what it is we need to measure if we are going to talk about student performance other than a single snapshot of data. And so our performance-management system is set up to help our teachers visualize three measures that we’ve decided are very important. The whole concept of looking at performance from a variety of different dimensions has become a reality for us. The whole design of the system was so that the teachers as well as the principals at the campus level have full control over the information.
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How much training was necessary for teachers and administrators at the school level to learn how to use the system successfully?
Hirsch: We are fortunate in that we’ve had a long history of training with staff and we’ve embedded technology into our curriculum for well over a dozen years now, so that all of our curriculum training involved the technology aspect of it as well.
What impact has the performance-management system had on student achievement?
Hirsch: It really has just been in place during [the 2007-08 school year], so we don’t have any longitudinal data that we can go back and find. But teachers are finding themselves looking at their students with a new view because of the information that’s being provided. And some of the questions in the past when they weren’t sure if a student had the ability to perform at a certain level, they now feel more confident in saying that, yes, that student is not achieving at the level they can.
It really seems like the district is making an effort to tailor learning to individual students and their needs.
Hirsch: That is very true. That is exactly our goal.
Your district is expanding the use of “open” technologies. Why are you heading in this direction?
Hirsch: What we’ve been looking at for quite a few years are those applications, those systems that work on an open framework so that we’re not locked in to proprietary formats. That’s been a big cause of concern for us at our size, with 54,000 students and 34,000 PCs. We are very much interested in making sure our students get access to whatever information they need, from wherever they are, whenever they choose to. I think that’s a big plus for us as we continue to work on that.
A version of this article appeared in the October 20, 2008 edition of Digital Directions as IT Performance Lessons From Texas