Warren County focusing on technology, training under restart

Image result for Warren County focusing on technology, training under restartA state school district a few months ahead of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools in planning for the restart model at low-performing schools is focusing on technology and training teachers to make the most of it.

The State Board of Education last week approved applications from the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools to implement restart programs at River Road Middle School and Pasquotank Elementary School, while Elizabeth City Middle School and P.W. Moore Elementary School will go through the transformational process.

Several months ago, the Warren County Schools district was approved for the restart model for four low-performing schools.Warren County Schools Superintendent Ray Spain said the district requested the restart model for all four because it offered additional flexibility.

“We felt it was really worth looking into and exploring,” Spain said of the increased flexibility.

While the flexibility available under the restart model applies to a number of areas including staffing and budget, Spain said, “probably the one that sticks out most is calendar flexibility — being able to operate on an alternate calendar.”

Mariam Boyd Elementary School Principal Katrinka Brewer said one of her school’s goals under the restart model is calendar-related. Brewer wants to dismiss students from the elementary school at 12:30 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of every month to create a professional development time for the school’s teachers. The calendar flexibility will allow that three hours of professional development twice a month to help teachers become more proficient with the software applications that are becoming central to everything the school does as it completes the process of becoming a “Google school,” Brewer said.

The extra time for technology training will not cut into teachers’ instructional time with students, since the school day will start at 8:15 a.m. rather than 8:30 a.m. as it has in the past, Brewer explained.

Spain said a lot of the financial flexibility for Boyd will be focused on technology, such as hiring a technology coach for the school.

Under the restart model the state converts the staff position allotment to a dollar allotment based on the average salary. Spain explained that the restart model creates a “quasi-independent school” where the principal has more flexibility to manage the budget. For example, Mariam Boyd has decided not to hire a replacement for a Spanish teacher who was leaving, but will use that funding for a curriculum technology specialist.

Spain said the budget flexibility is “both a challenge and an opportunty.”

The advantage, he said, is that “the principal can plan with real dollars in mind” and decide what the priorities will be.

Brewer said staff at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction told her she shouldn’t try to do too much the first year of restart, but to identify two or three main changes most likely to make a real difference for students.

For Mariam Boyd, those changes are the six hours of technology training a month for teachers, adding a curriculum technology specialist to coach teachers in the use of Chrome Books and software applications, and becoming a Google School with each student having a Chrome Book in place of notebooks and textbooks.

“These are the things that we thought would make the most difference in our students’ performance,” Brewer said.

She has seen the difference technology has already begun to make at the school.

“I have students in our school that hated school and didn’t like reading,” Brewer said. “Now those same students are reading books. They are using that device and doing work because they get immediate feedback. It has just made all the difference in the world.”

Brewer, who fondly recalls her own days as an elementary school student with pencils, notebooks and textbooks, has not always been a tech believer. But the look of interest and curiosity on students’ faces finally convinced her.

“When I decided to stop fighting this and get on board with it , we have learned that we get a lot more out of them,” Brewer said.

Students in grades 3-5 already have Chrome Books. All students will have them in the coming school year. Spain said Brewer found money in the Mariam Boyd budget over the past couple of years to buy Chome books, and the school board will supplement that next year.

Brewer said the point of technology is not the technology itself but what it means for instruction.

“That is the real significance of it is that it does change that entire instructional model,” Brewer said. “It changes the classroom model.”

The new approach in the classroom emphasizes problem-solving, students collaborating with each other, and teachers as facilitators, she said.