When it comes to deep, systemic education transformation, sometimes you have to not only take risks and push forward…you have to push down walls. Dr. Manuel Isquierdo knows first-hand what it means to take that kind of risk, and to “jump in waist-deep.”
Isquierdo joined the Sunnyside Unified School District (SUSD) in Tucson, Arizona in 2007.“The district and state are 49th out of 50 in education funding, 99 percent minority, and it’s a district that for many, many years has been one of those urban districts that has been not very successful with graduation rates, and high drop-out rates,” says Isquierdo. “Over the last four years, we as a district came up with a program called Project Graduation: The Digital Advantage. It’s an incentive-based program to encourage freshman to stay in school and to graduate.”
Project Graduation incentivizes freshman to stay in school through what Isquierdo calls the “Four A’s”: attendance, academics, attitude and achievement. Freshmen who meet the Four A’s receive a laptop computer. This program was created to motivate and support students using laptop computers as an incentive to decrease dropouts and increase the district’s graduation rate. Not only is the program working, they have seen dramatic results. According to Isquierdo and the SUSD, the number of graduates from Sunnyside District has risen from 505 in 2007, to 598 in 2008. In 2009, the number rose to 715, and to 821 in 2010. Last year the number rose to 873 and this year’s group of 900 has broken records.
“We’ve improved our graduation numbers, our graduation rate, our college rate,” says
Isquierdo. “But more importantly, it served as catalyst for this community to transform our vision, to transform our thinking.” In fact, the SUSD community is now recognized nationally as one of the leading districts in 1:1 education.
Isquierdo will be the first to admit that while technology is a necessity for students today, proper implementation is a must. “It is going to change the classroom if you do it right,” says Isquierdo. “But you need to do it right.” The SUSD used Project Red – Revolutionizing Education – as their strategic guide, and it has made all the difference for Isquierdo and his district. “It is our blueprint,” he says. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Technology in the classroom today is having a huge breakthrough in terms of teachers who are coming better prepared to change the way they teach, and to help kids change the way they learn,” adds Isquierdo. “I think right now Sunnyside is on that cutting edge of innovation. We have jumped waist-deep into this, and we really believe this is going to be that game changer.”
It’s hard to capture the enthusiasm and passion of Isquierdo, so we are lucky that he joined me for a video chat. I’m excited to present Dr. Manuel Isquierdo as today’s Daily Edventure.
About Dr. Manuel Isquierdo
Proud Superintendent of the Sunnyside District
Dr. Manuel L. Isquierdo has served as an administrator in both urban and suburban school districts for the past 20 years. His record is one of consistent achievement in the field of school improvement with an emphasis on improving test scores, decreasing dropout rates, and increasing graduation rates. As an urban school administrator in districts such as Kansas City, Chicago, Dallas, Northern California and most recently Tucson, Arizona, Dr. Isquierdo is experienced in implementing and managing change and designing successful comprehensive school reform initiatives that are being used as models at the state and national levels.
The Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board selected Dr. Isquierdo as superintendent in 2007 to improve the graduation rate, decrease the dropout rate, address the challenges of corrective action, and respect the importance of relationships in the process.
The successes and innovative concepts of Project Graduation: The Digital Advantage have garnered attention at state and national levels. Articles featuring Dr. Isquierdo and Project Graduation have been published in EdTech, Scholastic Administrator and District Administration magazines. Additionally, he has presented at the State of Latinos in Education Summit, National Technology & Learning Conference, Intel Technology Visionaries Conference , and the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents Summit on Hispanic Education, among many others.
As further evidence of his vision for technology in education, Dr. Isquierdo was named one of the nation’s 10 Tech-Savvy Superintendents of the Year in 2010 by eSchool News, an online resource for technology news for today’s K-20 educator.
Dr. Isquierdo’s vision for the Sunnyside District has been empowered by a supportive and award-winning Governing Board. In December 2010, the Board received the Lou Ella Kleinz Award of Excellence from the Arizona School Boards Association—its highest honor. And for its leadership of Project Graduation: The Digital Advantage, the Sunnyside District Governing Board has been named recipient of a 2011 Magna Award—a national recognition program co-sponsored by the American School Board Journal, the National School Boards Association, and Sodexo School Services that honors school board best practices and innovative programs that advance student learning.
Dr. Isquierdo was awarded his doctorate from National-Louis University in March 2004. His dissertation was titled “Latino/a Voices: A Case Study in School Reform of an Urban Hispanic High School.” He earned his master’s degree from Michigan State University and bachelor’s degree from Saginaw Valley State in Michigan.