Investigating the Impact of the Cisco 21st Century Schools Initiative on Hattiesburg Public School District

October 1, 2009

The Hattiesburg Public School District (HPSD) is a small urban school system located in southern Mississippi. Of the almost 4,500 students enrolled in its nine schools, 92 percent are African American and 90 percent receive free or reduced lunch. Currently, HPSD employs 34 administrators, 375 teachers, and 11 technology specialists.

Vision and Leadership

When the 21st Century Schools Initiative (21S) began in the 2005-2006 school year, only two of the nine HPSD schools participated-Rowan Elementary and Hattiesburg High School. During the second year of the initiative, however, participation rose to include all of the districtʼs schools, a level that continues to the present. While the districtʼs initial vision focused on increasing technology access and student academic performance, that vision has evolved over time and now incorporates 21st century outcomes, such as:

  • Fostering innovation and experimentation in the school system;
  • Producing students who are self-motivated thinkers;
  • Designing engaging interactive learning experiences.

Over time, the 21S vision is helping teachers recognize the value of technology within a 21st century education. In 2008, 83 percent of surveyed teachers agreed that technology was an integral part of their school; by 2009 that number had increased to 92 percent. A large majority of leaders (81 percent) say they have created leadership teams to help support the process of change in their school.

The Hattiesburg school leaders are already preparing for the day when Cisco funding will no longer be available. The district is reapportioning budgets, in particular Title I funds; reorganizing staff; and developing new funding sources in an effort to maintain high quality technology access and support.

The 21S Initiative centers around three structural transformations:

  • Connected District/School: The Connected District/School component established a secure and manageable baseline technology platform (data, voice, video, etc.), which encompasses all the equipment and human resources necessary to support all administrative and instructional processes in the school.
  • Connected Learning: The Connected Learning component promoted 21st century teaching and learning through new technologies, instructional approaches, and professional development.
  • Connected Community: The Connected Community component focused on fostering positive relationships between the school and a broad set of stakeholders, including parents, businesses, agencies, and non-profit organizations.

Connected District/School

HPSD leaders report that the 21S Initiative, which has entirely revamped the districtʼs technology infrastructure, has moved the district far beyond where it would have been without this support. Access to technology has improved greatly over the term of the 21S Initiative, particularly over the past two years. In 2009, 93 percent of administrators and 100 percent of technology personnel surveyed said that the overall state of implementation in Hattiesburg was on or above target. In 2007, only 22 percent of administrators and 50 percent of technology personnel felt that way. Similarly dramatic increases were noted regarding access to hardware, software, wireless Internet services, and technology-based security systems.

This increased access has positively influenced the district in a number of ways:

  • Principals spend less time traveling to district offices because they can participate in meetings via phone conferences.
  • Leaders and teachers can more easily collaborate within and across schools.
  • Teachers report that tools and software are more available in classrooms.
  • Investments in human capital-specifically new district- and school-level technical staff-have ensured more and higher quality technical support.

Within HPSD, one school, Rowan Elementary, was selected as a model school to receive additional technical and financial resources. While Rowanʼs stakeholders all acknowledge their good fortune, they have also been subject to feelings of resentment on the part of other schools. The districtʼs implementation of a grant request system to initiate the technology roll-out to other schools has helped to allay some of the envious feelings that might have developed towards Rowan.

By 2009, virtually all teachers had access to computers (99 percent), organizational software (93 percent), and the Internet (91 percent) in their classrooms. Compared to the prior year, the percentage of teachers with access to various tools grew significantly, with the largest gains in access to video cameras (up 18 percentage points) and interactive whiteboards (up 17 percentage points).

Hattiesburg teachers also report greater access to technical support. In 2007, 16 percent of teachers reported that technical support was always available; two years later, that number doubled to 32 percent. Administrators, too, noted this improvement, with 92 percent of leaders saying technical support was on target or above their expectations, up from 40 percent in 2007.

Connected Learning: Educator Outcomes

Professional Learning: Over the life of the 21S Initiative, HPSD has dramatically increased its professional development efforts to achieve initiative goals of improved leadership, technology integration, and instructional practices. As a result, the following professional learning gains have been achieved:

  • Virtually all HPSD teachers and administrators participated in 21S-related professional development opportunities in 2009.
  • Professional development now occurs more often at the school sites enabling greater customization to specific teachersʼ needs.
  • The total number of hours of available professional development has increased almost fourfold-from 130 hours four years ago to 509 hours this past school year.
  • Teacher satisfaction with training has increased. In 2009, 58 percent of teachers also report training by school-level personnel was very helpful-up 11 percentage points from the prior year.

Impact on Teaching: As a result, a transformation of instructional practice is beginning to take hold in the Hattiesburg schools.

    Teachers report increased expertise and greater frequency of use with all types of technology. This past school year, teachers most frequently used computers (85 percent), the Internet (69 percent), Internet Protocol (IP) phones (62 percent), and interactive whiteboards (61 percent), with the greatest gains in use shown in IP phones, organizational software and interactive whiteboards. In 2007, only 19 percent of teachers considered themselves experts in the use of computers, but by 2009, that number grew to 35 percent.

  • Eighty-three percent (83 percent) of teachers report they use technology in their classes, up 7 percentage points over prior years, with 70 percent saying they used technology daily, a gain of 11 percentage points in two years.
  • Communications among teachers are enhanced, with teachers reporting they frequently mentor each other and meet to exchange ideas, share student work, and interact with global networks. The percentage of teachers who said they had role models in their school for integrating technology into their teaching more than doubled from 30 percent in 2007 to 65 percent in 2009.
  • More teachers are using facilitation in their classrooms in addition to more traditional forms of teaching.
  • Teachers also engage more frequently with outside specialists to bring in "real world" resources and expertise in the classroom.
  • One district leader commented that teachers are employing different ways of teaching: "You see them [teachers] using studentsʼ input and actually hearing their students and addressing what they hear. You see them # actually designing work that engages students, which means theyʼre looking at why theyʼre doing it, who theyʼre doing it for, and changing as they go."

Connected Learning: Student Outcomes

Student use of instructional technology is one way to promote learning gains-the ultimate goal, of course, of any school change effort. In HPSD, the following are positive signs of development:

  • Students say they are using more technology in their classrooms, with 80 percent saying they feel confident using and helping others use a wide range of tools.
  • Students say they are active participants in their learning and have opportunities to ask teachers questions and to be creative in their schoolwork.
  • More students are reading. In 2008, 31 percent of students said they spent one hour or more reading each day; in 2009, that percentage rose to 48 percent.
  • All administrators (100 percent) report Information and Communication Technology (ICT)literacy among students has improved since the 21S Initiative began.>/li>

Although results are somewhat mixed (as will be addressed in the Remaining Challenges section), the following behavioral issues have seen positive gains during the time of the 21S Initiative:

  • Attendance is improved throughout the district-from an absentee rate of 6.6 percent in 2005-2006 to 5.4 percent in 2007-2008.
  • Administrators and teachers agree that student disciplinary issues are fewer.
  • In 2008-2009, detentions, suspensions, and classroom behavior incidents were lower than the prior year.

Administrators, teachers, and students overwhelmingly agree that students are more engaged in their learning, as shown in:

  • Higher levels of class participation and homework completion;
  • Dramatically higher levels of participation in state science and math fairs;
  • Greater number of hours spent reading, both online and in print.

Student scores on Mississippi state exams and college entrance exams have shown generally positive gains as well. Because of revisions to the state tests made in 2006 and 2007, comparing recent results to those before the launch of 21S is difficult. While the percentage of Hattiesburg students scoring proficient or above tends to be lower than the state as a whole, as compared to 2007-2008, in the past school year:

  • The percentage of Hattiesburg students scoring proficient or above in four of the six grades tested has increased.
  • The differential between district and state scores narrowed for students in 3rd through 6th grades.
  • Participation in the American College Testing (ACT) program has remained relatively stable over the years though the average ACT score has fallen slightly.
  • While fewer students are taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses, more of them are passing the AP exams with a 3 or higher.

Finally, graduation and college acceptance rates are encouraging. Since the inception of the 21S Initiative:

  • Dropout rates have halved.
  • High school graduation rates have improved steadily.
  • The percentage of students receiving college scholarships has steadily increased.
  • Students report higher aspirations, with more saying they intend to go to college.
  • Connected Community

    Hattiesburgʼs approach to the Connected Community component of the 21S Initiative includes reaching out to businesses and faith-based groups, as well as parents and other community members. Among the measures of success in these:

    • School-to-parent communications have increased (e-mail, phone calls, print newsletters, home visits), and 9 of 11 schools now have websites.
    • Parents, teachers, and administrators all agree that parentsʼ involvement in their childʼs education has increased.
    • More parents noted having access to activities and events offered outside of traditional hours-from 24 percent in 2008 to 37 percent in 2009.
    • Since 2005, PTA meeting attendance has increased by a factor of 20.

    Remaining Challenges

    School change is never simple nor quick. While much has been accomplished in the Hattiesburg Public School District, a number of outcomes are as yet unrealized.

    Vision and Leadership: Leadersʼ expectations regarding 21st century pedagogies still outpace those of teachers, indicating that further communication and professional development needs to take place to help teachers fully grasp expectations for instructional practice.

    Connected School/District: While technology infrastructure and access have improved greatly in the district, some technology inputs still lag, with over half of Hattiesburg teachers reporting lack of classroom access to Web 2.0 tools and 45 percent saying they lack enough computers for all students.

    Connected Learning: Professional development, teachersʼ practices around technology use and instruction, planning time for teachers, data-driven instruction, and student behavior are areas that will benefit from further development. Changing professional habits and teaching philosophies is difficult in any organization, and HPSD data reveals that it, too, has struggled in this area. Teachers initially found it difficult to integrate technology into their teaching, and for a significant number of them, that challenge remains.

    Echoing a ubiquitous complaint of educators, HPSD teachers bemoan the lack of adequate planning time for teachers to integrate technology and incorporate new instruction practices into their daily routine. Further, only 11 percent of teachers reported that they were frequently expected to use data to inform their instruction.

    While measures of technology integration and teacher collaboration have both increased across the district, there has been a decline in the use of student-centered instructional practice, such as encouraging student-led research, student-led revision, analysis, and student presentation of work products. Reflecting perhaps a bit of "change fatigue," students are also reporting less excitement about their classes than in earlier years of the 21S Initiative.

    Student achievement as measured on college entrance tests shows mixed results. While passing rates on AP tests are higher (up 8 percentage points in the past year), participation in AP courses has declined (down 6 percentage points). Average ACT scores have fallen slightly as well (from 17.6 in 2008 to 16.7 in 2009).

    Lessons Learned

    Now that Ciscoʼs partnership with the Hattiesburg Public School District is drawing to a close, itʼs a good time to look back to see what lessons can be learned about educational reform.

    Vision and Change Leadership: To transform its schools and school culture, Hattiesburg school leaders formulated and carried out the following strategies:

    • Articulated a clear and compelling vision for creating a 21st century learning environment;
    • Developed leadership teams at both district and school levels;
    • Fostered generative partnerships with local and national organizations;
    • Improved communication and collaboration throughout the district;
    • Promoted a culture of innovation and experimentation;
    • Organized budgets and staffing to sustain the 21S Initiative once Ciscoʼs participation and support ends.

    21st Century Learning Environment: EDC looked first at the data it had collected to better understand the relationship between the initiativeʼs input and its outcomes. Several factors emerged as the greatest levers of systematic transformation of a school district like Hattiesburg from a small urban district with a tradition of low educational achievement and high poverty to a high-functioning 21st century school system. The factors are as follows:

    • Access to sufficient hardware and software;
    • Access to Web 2.0 tools;
    • High-quality technical professional development;
    • Effective communication and collaboration strategies for teachers;
    • Inclusion of parents and community members in the decision-making processes.

    Researchers conducted additional correlation analysis to which outcomes were most closely related to inputs associated with Connected School, Connected Learning, and Connected Community. This analysis suggests that the following items are the most likely outputs when the right mix of school and district level inputs are in place:

      Increased number of students passing AP exams;

    • Increased number of students who are better prepared for future employment;
    • Increased number of students who are better prepared for college;
    • Increased number of students who are more likely to go to college;
    • Increased community involvement;
    • Increased interaction with local institutes of higher learning;
    • Increased cooperation within the district;
    • Improved community perception of the school or district.


Terri Meade
Elizabeth Pierson
Harouna Ba