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On July 19th, the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina will be hosting a 3-day symposium called “Summer Connections 2011”.  The training program will detail how Mooresville took a technology initiative four years ago and transformed itself into one of the largest success stories in USA K12 public education today. The symposium will bring together superintendents, administrators, technicians, teachers – and millennial students -- all interested in learning the Mooresville recipe, and how to bring that back to their home districts.

What is the story? It’s simple, really. Two points – 1. Test score changes over the four-year period have been profound -- proving the technology initiative was wildly successful, and 2. It’s a district-wide success  story – all 8 schools have seen a significant rise in test scores. Not just a high school here or intermediate school there.  Since 2007, Mooresville district-wide dropout rates are down 20%; at the Mooresville High School graduation rates are up from 64% to 86%; District North Carolina composite scores are up from 73% to 86% in 2010, with the District arcing toward 90% in 2011. It’s now the 4th highest achieving school district in North Carolina, even though it ranks 99th out of the 115 state districts in school funding.

What happened? The press will write about the technology initiative – tabbed “Digital Conversion” – but we’ve seen these before. They come and go – and some miss the mark. Mooresville hits with a resounding thwack. So how did this happen? There’s more to the story, and here it is:

  1. An unwavering focus on students.  Dr. Mark Edwards, Mooresville’s superintendent, is smart enough to know technology is but a tool. So he built the possibility of this conversion – but he based it on an incredible focus on the students. Visit Mooresville, as I have – and you will see “students leaning in” to their work.  Positive, can-do millennial attitudes dominate the hallways, along with their ease of total dependence on technology. To this day Edwards will say the technology is critical – but it exists to serve the students.
  2. Change management.  Dr Edwards led a process that engaged first the community, then the teachers, then the parents, and then the students. He produced many “town hall” type meetings to let the community in on the plan, why they needed to embrace technology in learning, and listened to the intense feedback.  He also explained expected outcomes – all of which have become real. He and his staff communicated heavily on the “why” and “how” – and soon the stakeholder groups came on board.
  3. Funding.  Mooresville shared the plan with the community, and received contributions from many local companies. But they “saved to invest” – they transitioned from textbooks to laptops, eliminated printers and lockers, negotiated very strong asset leases, and were able to equip each of their 5,700 students with laptops for the equivalent of $1/day. They pushed infrastructure investment to CapEx, and funded classroom and student-level facing technology via OpEx.
  4. Professional development.   Mooresville’s teacher training was unlike anything district teachers had seen before. For the first time they were empowered to customize their learning (and that of their students) according to need. They were also encouraged to take a leadership role in creating an innovative, engaging curriculum using the new technology tools. “The professional development was differentiated by content level, grade level, and each teacher’s response level,” says Edwards. “Then we did a lot with building ‘distributed leadership’ capacity, in every part of the district. Now Mooresville doesn’t have just two or three leaders in each school; we have 15 or 20 in each who are helping their colleagues, and helping refine their work.”
  5. Technology ecosystem.   Dr. Edwards and the Mooresville CIO, Dr. Scott Smith, knew they were in for a multi-year transition heavily dependent on key resources.  So they made the call early on to establish strong technology partnerships with 5-6 key companies – among them Apple, Intel, Pearson, Discovery, and Cisco. All companies with significant resources and a shared passion for the vision. “To me, making appropriate investments in computing infrastructure is as important as investing in wiring or lighting,” Edwards said.
  6. Leadership.   At the end of the day the District had a vision, the community voted to support it, they understood the risks and issues. But four years later – the results are stunning, and it gets down to leadership. Being able to make the tough decisions on funding, recruiting, helping teachers through a change process that had been painful for them to witness at other districts. And throughout, being able to see what’s possible, early on hire the key 4-5 people to help with the change, working and investing to help the other stakeholders believe – it’s quite a thing to see unfold.

The results?  We’ll see what the 2011-12 school year brings – but the Mooresville team is committed to keep continually improving student learning.  And if history is any indicator – it’s a good bet they will soon top that North Carolina state composite scores chart.  And as for their upcoming Summer Connections program next month – don’t be surprised if you recognize other district superintendents or DOE members there.

Only can do this in Mooresville? Only possible in a rural community with a manageable enrollment of 5700?  Only possible at this size level? 

Do you believe that?

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3 Comments.


  1. Lynn Harrison

    I have a question more than a comment, how do you physically manage the laptops as textbooks? Are students allowed to take them home? What about inevitable breakage and theft? I just would like a ‘nuts and bolts’ view of how this works because I completely buy the premise…. but am concerned about management of the resource.

       0 likes

    • Every student grades 4-12 are issued a MacBook for their use 24/7 during the school year. We issue the machines the first week of school and take them up the week before school is out. Student receive the same computer back again next year. Every machine is bar-coded for easy scanning in and out. Every 1:1 school has a help desk to meet immediate technical issues, but warranty issues go back to Apple. Breakage is normal, but is handled on a per incident basis. Everything is investigated as to accident or negligence.

      The whole process is a logistical puzzle, but one that is replicable and doable :)

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  2. Get the nuts and bolts by having that close relationship with Apple, Cisco, and other vendors. They can give you guidance about other programs that this that are working and why. Go visit some successes and learn from them. Yes, most older students are allowed to take the laptops home. And most schools have insurance for breakage and theft. My dad told me that it was a big argument in his community when students were first allowed to take textbooks home – lots of discussion about damage and theft. But now we can’t imagine not giving each child their own copy. In ten years, we won’t imagine not giving them the electronic tools to do their best.

       0 likes

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