Dysart Unified School District Recognized for Collaborative Planning, Digital Learning

Arizona’s Dysart Unified School District uses a collaborative planning process that incorporates digital learning to meet the challenges presented by steep student growth while improving student learning and outcomes, a new interactive video profile conducted by the Alliance for Excellent Education finds. The case study, Dysart Unified School District: How One School District Used Collaborative Planning to Improve Outcomes for All Students, is the third in a series of interactive video profiles highlighting school districts in the use of digital learning to improve teaching and learning.

The series of interactive profiles is part of Alliance’s Project 24, an initiative that helps school districts plan for twenty-first-century learning and teaching. Districts like Dysart serve as models to help other districts recognize what can be accomplished by careful planning and digital technology implementation.

“Before making technology purchases, Dysart made a strategic plan for digital learning. Instead of reacting to the challenges of budget cuts and a growing student population, they acted in advance to ensure a quality education for every student,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.

Dysart, a rapidly growing K–12 school district in Arizona where nearly half of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, responded to the simultaneous challenges of significant budget cuts and growth in student numbers by actively designing a collaborative, strategic planning process for improving student learning outcomes that involves educators, administrators, parents, and community leaders. As part of the strategic plan, district leaders ask how purchases, changes in curriculum or assessment, or personnel decisions will lead to better student learning. Meeting this goal led to the development of strategies that use technology and digital learning to improve outcomes.

“Dysart hasn’t just spent money on technology devices; they have invested in the professional development necessary to create a culture where teachers are both proficient and comfortable using technology in a classroom setting,” said Ann Flynn, director of educational technology for the National School Boards Association, in her remarks on a site visit to recognize Dysart for innovative technology use.

Dysart created the Innovation Ambassadors program to enhance professional development for educators around the use of digital technology. As part of the program, the district employs technology specialists who assist with the intersection of technology and teaching. The program encourages student innovation as well. Student efforts aid leaders in deciding whether to adopt the technology districtwide.

Dysart’s process for improving student outcomes shows positive results. High school graduation rates improved for all students by 6 percentage points since 2007, and by 41 percentage points in the last four years for low-income students. The district credits its new collaborative culture for these successes.

“Collaboration is a part of the culture [at Dysart], and because of that, when we set out to develop something or we’re working on curriculum, assessments, new programs, we really have a team approach, and the team involves all of the people that are certainly closest to that work, which means our teachers, but also we collaborate across our departments,” Dysart Superintendent Gail Pletnick said.

The Dysart interactive video profile is available at www.all4ed.org/files/Dysart.pdf.