How Lubbock ISD’s 1:1 Student Laptop Program Went Virtual

Officials in Lubbock Independent School District already had a system in place to provide devices to all of its students last year when COVID-19 school closures kicked the program into overdrive.

Students sitting at a table working on laptops.
Lubbock ISD has made great strides in its 1:1 program, which had many of its pieces in place prior to COVID-19.
Lubbock ISD
School systems across the country were blindsided last year when COVID-19 school closures forced millions of K-12 students to continue their courses from home without the devices needed for full virtual learning. And though some schools had many of the pieces in place for digital learning prior to the pandemic, that radical shift was no walk in the park.

About five years ago, education officials in Lubbock Independent School District in Texas set out to establish a digital learning plan that would eventually provide devices such as Dell Chromebooks to each of the district’s 27,000 students. At the time, the plan was considered ambitious, and officials projected it would take years to fully implement across all grade levels and campuses.

Lubbock ISD Chief Technology Officer Damon Jackson said the program was approved after school board leaders and IT administrators discussed how to best reallocate existing local school funds to purchase and maintain thousands of new devices and ed-tech platforms. Drawing off his previous CTO experience in school districts in Tucson and Ector County, Jackson said such a program requires more than just one-time funding.

He noted that it was important to convince district leaders to devote recurring funding to the program to make it sustainable in the years ahead.

“Fortunately, they were willing to listen,” he said, adding that the program now receives about $4.5 million in annual funding to purchase up-to-date devices and maintain existing laptops.

Jackson said the program has so far been financed through local school funding mechanisms. As of this week, he said, it remains to be seen whether the district will be able to use recent relief funds to add to the program.

“The bulk of funding goes into student Chromebooks,” he said. “Then we have a cycle for teacher devices as part of that, so we keep the teacher devices on a replacement cycle.”

Jackson said the first phase of the district program began with putting laptops in classrooms, which helped familiarize students and teachers with devices and ed-tech platforms that would later become even more widely used during school closures.

By around the third year of the program, officials said, district students in grades 2 through 12 all had devices in their classrooms. While the program helped make ed tech a part of everyday learning in many Lubbock classrooms, IT administrators had to accelerate their 1:1 plan of providing each student with a device to take home and strengthening digital literacy across the system.

“Our 1:1 implementation got sped up because five years ago, we were able to get that commitment for classroom technology, but we didn’t have a lot of student devices available for use,” Jackson said. “Our teachers didn’t know how to manage it in the classroom and didn’t know how to incorporate it into their lessons.”

Digital Learning Coordinator Cary Fulgham, who has served as a teacher and tech trainer in the district, said Lubbock started distributing more devices to students up to second grade shortly after the initial stages of the program, prior to COVID-19.

However, with nearly three-quarters of the district’s students classified as economically disadvantaged, the district also eventually had to help facilitate connectivity for students without reliable Internet.

“That was probably our biggest hurdle, Internet availability for our students,” she said, adding that the district has distributed thousands of hot spots and set up free “park-and-learn” Wi-Fi spots near schools.

Fulgham said administrators, students and teachers have had to remain vigilant as cyber threats such as phishing scams directed against districts across the nation continue to increase, coinciding with a growing network of devices, and with it, new vulnerabilities in K-12 schools.

Fulgham added that Lubbock ISD has increased its emphasis on digital literacy and IT support services for both teachers and student families, noting that the shift to remote learning created a constant need to adapt.

“We have to teach our kids all of the pieces that come with [virtual learning] as far as digital citizenship, safety online and how to take care of your device,” she said, referring to the district’s emphasis on digital awareness.

According to Jackson, school districts such as Houston ISD served as early models for how to implement a 1:1 program around the time that Lubbock established theirs. Today, he said, most of the district’s students have elected to remain engaged in remote learning.

Fulgham said neighboring systems have looked to Lubbock ISD for guidance recently about how to implement similar programs in their schools. In order to make a 1:1 program work, she said, districts must continually learn from each other’s successes and difficulties.

“A lot of the districts surrounding us have reached out for support for how to get this rolled out and started,” she said. “Having people to reach out to and get feedback from has been really beneficial and helpful to us as we move forward.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.