MOORESVILLE, N.C. — As part of a family of educators, I’m a believer in the power of education and how it can change the life of every student, every day.
I also believe in using technology as a great equalizer.
When I became Superintendent of North Carolina’s Mooresville Graded School District in 2007, I envisioned making the district a pioneer in education technology to counter the declining test scores and poor attendance rates among the student body, as well as the disproportionately high suspension rates among African American students that I found upon my arrival.
Based on the success we had in my former district, Henrico County Schools in Richmond, Virginia, I presented the idea of providing every child in grades 4 through 12 with a MacBook.
After some initial resistance about the necessity and uncertainty surrounding the endeavor, our educators, parents, and business community rallied around the idea and in 2009, Mooresville’s digital conversion began in earnest. And it has not stopped since.
Mooresville’s pioneering journey continued this fall as we began to implement Rosetta Stone language learning modules for the 3,000 students in our five elementary and intermediate schools.
Visitors from as far away as New Zealand and Europe have come to our schools to witness our teachers and students in action. They are curious to learn how a district that ranks 100th out of 115 school districts in North Carolina in terms of dollars spent per student, per year, $7,415, is now third in test scores and second in graduation rates.
Our teachers have become efficient and successful at properly blending the use of technology with curriculum, and they now provide professional development to other school districts across the United States.
The digital resources have helped develop a culture of collaboration between teachers and students and have enabled teachers to facilitate rather than to dictate. They are used to assemble progress data, allow for compelling multimedia lessons, and allow students to build and analyze projects while working at their own pace or in groups.
Teachers apportion their time based on the need of students, differentiating depending on individual progress. This dynamic has helped children with learning disabilities to participate and succeed in mainstream classes. Conversely, students are empowered to take charge of their learning and dramatically reduce any sense of boredom or anxiety.
The steady gains of the district, partly achieved by using the digital resources as a tool for teaching as well as assessment, have been significant and far reaching.
Since 2007, the percentage of district students testing proficient or advanced on state end-of-grade tests has risen from 73 percent to 89 percent. The four-year cohort graduation rate has improved by 13 percentage points, with 90 percent of seniors graduating, and the college-going rate has increased from 74 percent to 88 percent. In addition, school attendance has risen, suspension rates have declined, and performance gaps affecting African-American students have been closed.
We knew from research that the benefits of early language acquisition are many, especially in better preparing our students for success in today’s increasingly global and diverse marketplace. Yet, in the absence of language teachers at our elementary and intermediate levels, we needed a cost-effective way to provide even our youngest learners the opportunity for exposure to a new language they would otherwise not receive.
We worked to develop a foundation of early language acquisition for our students in grades K through 6. Launched in the school two months ago, we’ve structured the independent language study according to grade level and incorporated it into the school day, with every student receiving daily instruction cumulating in a minimum of one hour of weekly instruction supervised by their classroom teacher.
The advancement in education technology not only offers our students an opportunity to learn a new language both in school and at home, but it will also allow our teachers to use this technology to personalize learning experiences, track learner data, monitor student progress and, ultimately, obtain better results for our students.
Our objective is not to replace language teachers with technology. It is, given scarce resources, to provide our students the best preparation for the intense language instruction that awaits them in our middle and high schools.
As was the case for the laptop initiative, teacher and parent buy-in were essential for a successful implementation. We spoke with both our Parent Advisory Committee and Teacher Advisory Committee about the implementation to ensure both groups were on board.
The issue of adding a foreign language program to our K-6 grades had repeatedly come up, but the district needed to find an option that would work within our budget.
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This most recent technological implementation is testament to our commitment to providing our faculty with the most effective instructional tools possible so they can give every child, every day, what they need to succeed, regardless of their backgrounds.
Whether it comes in the form of a laptop computer or a virtual teaching tool, we will continue our quest to change the culture of instruction in Mooresville.
Our students will reap the benefits by being prepared for the inherent challenges and opportunities of the global society that awaits them.
Mark Edwards, Ed.D.,is superintendent of the Mooresville Graded School District in Mooresville, N.C. The 2013 A. Craig Phillips North Carolina Superintendent of the Year as well as the American Association of School Administrators 2013 National Superintendent of the Year, he was previously named Virginia’s Superintendent of the Year and a Harold W. McGraw Prize In Education recipient.