Digital Revolution Hits Huntsville Schools

Being described as possibly the biggest paper-to-digital shift for a school district in the country, Huntsville’s new superintendent is pushing his schools head-first into the 21st Century.

On June 21st, Superintendent Casey Wardynski presented to the Huntsville school board his plans to transition the district completely away from traditional textbooks by going digital. To support a successful shift, he plans to equip all students with the appropriate technology (i.e. laptops and electronic tablets), and provide his teachers with “phenomenal” professional development to enhance learning in their classrooms.

Numerous benefits were cited in the recent Huntsville Times article for the complete transition, from saving the district millions of dollars in annual textbook costs, to “catching up” to how kids learn today, to even lightening the load in students’ backpacks.

Huntsville is ahead of the state of Florida, which passed an aggressive initiative in its 2011 budget (FL SB2120) requiring all public schools in the state to go digital by 2015-16. This legislation is the first of its kind in the country, but has spurred concern from some legislators and school lobbyists that this may become an “unfunded mandate.” An article published in The Palm Beach Post (April 4, 2011) during the proposal’s debate describes the budgetary and logistical concerns of districts, and although a bill has since passed there remain murmurs of the debate resurfacing with attempts to extend the implementation deadline. (See recent blog post on

While not a system-wide effort, the first school known to have gone all digital in the U.S. is in Pinellas County, Florida. Clearwater High School issued a Kindle e-book reader to each of its students to use as digital textbooks for English, math and some sciences. (Tampa Bay Times news story, September 2010)

The Huntsville digital initiative is a collaborative effort with Pearson Education, an online education services company funded by the Pearson Foundation. Wardynski explained that the system currently spends about $5 million on traditional textbooks that typically need to be replaced within seven years. His proposal indicates that the digital books will cost half that amount annually after the initial implementation period.

Click here for an article on how the major K-12 textbook publishers are responding to the digital shifts.