Another Look at the Mooresville Story – Connecting the Millennials
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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?
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