Evergreen schools transition from paper to pixels

District adopts online classes, digital textbooks for eight subjects

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

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Evergreen Public Schools this summer will begin shifting from paper textbooks to virtual ones.

The school board at its Tuesday meeting approved digital curriculum and material for eight subjects ranging from kindergarten science and math to high school Advanced Placement psychology. The curriculum includes online class work, as well as additional printed materials. The school board will consider additional curriculum throughout the summer.

The curriculum replaces textbooks for some classes as the district prepares to put laptop computers in the hands of all its students from third grade to senior year this year. Younger students will also use computers and the newly adopted material in the classroom, but won’t take the devices home. Vancouver and Battle Ground school districts are also rolling out digital curriculum.

Deputy Superintendent John Steach, who will take over as superintendent this summer, said the district will pay about $6.2 million a year for digital curriculum — down slightly from the average $6.5 million the district would pay annually for traditional textbooks. That includes the leases for devices.

There are other added bonuses to the digital curriculum that stretch the district’s dollar, Steach said. It’s easier for teachers to tailor lessons for individual students, meaning students who are ahead or behind can be digitally given work that meets their needs. Teachers are better able to share lessons and suggestions with their fellow teachers and between different campuses. Grading assessments will take significantly less time, allowing teachers to focus more on teaching their students rather than grading tests.

Steach said Tuesday’s adoption was more “than most districts adopt in five years.”

“The bottom line is that for less money, we have a better product for teachers and students and are also transforming the learning environment to better match the world our kids already live in,” Steach said.

The latest curriculum adoption, and curriculum the board will consider this summer, are among the largest purchases of new material for the district in recent years. In an effort to keep teachers during the 2008 recession, the district scaled back the purchase of new textbooks and adoption of new curriculum, Superintendent John Deeder said.

Furthermore, said school board President Victoria Bradford, as the district was headed toward putting more computers into classroom, it made more sense to wait on purchasing textbooks if it meant keeping teachers’ jobs.

“We could have done curriculum adoption or keep teachers, and we decided it was better to keep teachers,” she said. “We knew we were headed on a digital path.”