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UCPS chosen by Google for statewide symposium

Matt Graham, an IT services manager, at left, addresses a group of North Carolina superintendents and DPI representatives during a recent Google symposium held at Union County Public Schools. Also pictured is Cory Hardman, (second from left) a UCPS system's engineer, and (seated) Becky Swiger, a UCPS instructional technology facilitator.

“Union County Public Schools is led by instruction, but powered by technology.”

This comment, made recently by Deputy Superintendent Dr. Mike Webb, could be the mantra for the school system’s 1-to-1 initiative, which aims to put a computer in the hands of every student.

So impressed with the school system’s efforts to achieve this goal, Google representatives invited about 70 North Carolina school superintendents and representatives from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to come to Union County to attend a Google Superintendent & Curriculum Leadership Symposium on Feb. 26, 2014.

Kanapolis Assistant Superintendent Chip Buckwell said he came to the symposium to see the model that Union County Public Schools had rolled out.

“We needed validation that we’re doing the right thing or if we needed to go another direction,” Buckwell said. “I also wanted to network – develop a better relationship with Google and the people who are here today. We’re going to be more powerful together than we are separate. We have to have a better plan for our kids and better options and better opportunities.”

“I hope to walk away with more connections, more people to talk with about where we’re going and how we’re getting there,” Buckwell added. “I want to know the ideas that UCPS has implemented as to not have to recreate things, things already known, like what stumbling blocks they faced – so that we won’t necessarily face the same ones.”

Neill Kimrey with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction said he came to Union County to see the details of what UCPS was doing with its initiative.

“There is definitely a vision here and a plan to make that vision a reality,” Kimrey said “I’m very impressed with the planning process so far. It’s very promising to see the district has a vision and they have a plan for making it happen. And the district’s leadership is very excited about that.”

UCPS Instructional Technology Facilitator Becky Swiger said UCPS has become known nationwide for its achievements and efforts in establishing and sustaining an effective 1:1 initiative.

This initiative means that every student in grades six through 12 and all teachers are given a computer. The initiative has placed about 24,000 Chromebooks in the hands of UCPS students and 9,000 Netbook in the hands of the system’s K-5 students.

These Netbooks were initially given out to sixth through eighth graders about four years ago. They have now been reissued to elementary school students.

The planning and implementation in Union County began about five years ago. Initially UCPS began its implementation in grades 6-8 and has expanded its initiative to all secondary students, grades 6-12, with the deployment of almost 24,000 Chromebooks.

Part of the symposium entailed students talking about the impact of the initiative. Jake Hillhouse, a senior in the medical academy at CATA, talked about how the 1-to-1 initiative had impacted communication between the students and staff at his school. “This is my first year using a 1-to-1 device and I’ve seen a very big difference in how the communication has changed throughout the school between students and the school staff.”

He spoke about how simple it was to email a teacher or schedule meetings with school clubs. Also he spoke about the improved ability of students to communicate with guidance counselors and school administrator.

Webb told the symposium audience that in order to be successful in an undertaking like the 1-to-1 laptop initiative, the school system had to invest in the “human capital.”

“That’s providing quality professional development and you have to make sure you have the tech support for whatever number of devices you roll out,” Webb said.

During the symposium, Union County Board of Education Chairman Richard Yercheck said public schools should no longer prepare students for the 21st Century. “We’ve already graduated the first class of the 21st Century,” he said. “We’re having conversations now as to what the 22nd Century classrooms will look like, because if you’re not getting ahead of it, you’re behind it.”

UCPS Deputy Superintendent Dr. Mike Webb told those in attendance that UCPS looks at the student as not only the student, but also the teacher.

“We’re going to roll out 12 pilot classrooms next year that we believe will be 22nd Century classrooms,” Webb said. “We’re going to take middle and high schools and offer multiple learning centers. Our teachers will be truly facilitators of learning. The classroom furniture will be flexible enough that it will be completely adaptable for what may change on the next lesson. The classroom, the students and the teacher all need to be flexible.”

UCPS Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellis explained to those in attendance at the symposium that the school’s system’s “My Size Fits Me” philosophy was instrumental in motivating the initiative. One thing, she explained, that drove it was an effort to increase the system’s graduation rate.

It is apparently working. Ellis noted that five years ago, the UCPS graduation rate was 77 percent. The graduation rate of 2013 has risen to 90.8 percent.

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Mar 06, 2014 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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