Vail School District Wins Award for Innovation in Education

In Southeastern Arizona, the Vail School District is taking an innovative approach to classroom technology. The biggest reward for their trailblazing is in the results, but the fact that the district was formally recognized with an award certainly doesn't hurt.


Vail Wins the Sylvia Charp Award

In June, 2011, Arizona's Vail Unified School District was recognized for its innovative use of classroom technology, winning the 2011 Sylvia Charp Award. The Charp Award is given annually by T.H.E. (Technological Horizons in Education) Journal and the International Society for Technology in Education. Named for T.H.E. Journal's founder, the Sylvia Charp Award recognizes school districts that take an inventive and thorough approach to technology.

The Vail School District was specifically recognized for its Beyond Textbooks initiative. Vail's recognition marks the eighth annual granting of the Charp Award. The district's assistant superintendent, Debbie Hedgepeth, and Kevin Carney, director of the Beyond Textbooks program, were presented with the award at the International Society for Technology and Education's annual conference in Philadelphia in June, 2011.

Beyond Textbooks

The foundational idea of Beyond Textbooks is, as the name suggests, that education shouldn't begin and end with a textbook. In a write-up about the program, Carney points out that teachers often '(use textbooks) as a crutch.' Alternately, he says, creative teachers can be stifled by the limitations of curriculums that rely too heavily on textbook organization.

With Beyond Textbooks, Vail was able to break free of obstacles and improve its standing from a middle-of-the-road district in the 1990s to an Arizona top-performer in the current decade. One big component of the program is that it is teacher-driven. While the program was being developed, it was teachers, not administrators or politicians, who got to work closely with curriculum planners. The result, Carney says, is an educational program that goes beyond the 'read-a-chapter-and-answer-the-questions' model used in so many districts today. Now, instead of using a single textbook to guide curriculum, teachers come together to plan lessons and share tips for success.

Open-Source Sharing

This winning initiative is an interesting concept that has been executed effectively, as evidenced by its implementation beyond the Vail district itself. As of August, 2011, 25 Arizona schools were looking in to using the Beyond Textbooks model. Though a plan that specifically rejects textbook standardization may seem like a difficult one to share, Vail has taken advantage of technology to make materials available on an open-source basis. Given its success in the Vail School District, in addition to the receipt of the Sylvia Charp Award, the Beyond Textbooks initiative is likely to draw a growing amount of national attention.

Some Indiana schools are creating a textbook revolution of their own.

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