“You see, we know what’s possible for our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.”
With these and 1,000 other words on education contained within his second State of the Union address on January 25th, 2011, President Obama signaled a renewed focus on learning in which the Federal government supports grass roots success movements.
He just may have been thinking about the Mooresville Graded School District (MGSD), in North Carolina.
Mooresville is one of our best examples of a local school district “taking control” of their learning outcomes without any help from the state or Federal government. In 2007, they launched a local movement to drive a “digital conversion” for their district, equipping each child with a laptop, doing away with textbooks, and focusing on collaborative and project-based learning.
It was also tiny Mooresville that attracted up to 40 districts and 400 teachers and partners to their “Summer Connection 2011” program. The three-day series of workshops detailed best practices and methodologies for visiting districts on how to plan for, and successfully implement, a technology conversion. Classes were held on getting the community involved, funding, change management, curriculum tips for teachers, and overall program leadership. Want to set up your own IT “help desk” at your high school? – yes, that was part of the seminar.
At the conclusion, seven superintendents formed a panel and gave feedback to the attendees on overall impressions. The supers hailed from Illinois, Alabama, and Kentucky – although 19 states were represented by the 400 people in the audience. From Baldwin County Schools in Alabama, through Leyden High School District in Illinois – the superintendents – there to learn and carry back the possibilities – reflected on the overall event. The panel was composed of Dr. Alan Lee (Baldwin, AL), Dr. Diane Robertson (Mendon, Ill), Dr. Kathyrn Robbins (Leyden HS – Franklin Park, Ill), Dr. Gary Niehaus (McLean County, Ill), Dr. Larry Vick (Owensboro, KY), Matt Aiken (Piedmont, AL), and Ed Settles (Jerseyville, ILL).
“We’re all in” they mentioned to a speaker as they opened the feedback panel. “There is a moral obligation we have to our kids, and we owe this to them. Not to stay with ways we taught in our past, but to help them learn for their futures. Technology can do this.” They continued: “As teachers, we need to think outside the box. The capabilities of the technology shown here can deliver self-paced learning for all class levels, it can also drive more collaboration for our teachers with the students, and vice versa”.
They went on: “These tools can help us deliver better teaching – build our capacity to serve students better. This is really a community project – not a technology project – and our communities need this right now.” “To me it seems Mooresville’s conversion has raised the game – it’s expanded & developed teacher-leaders in this county – and in my community I need to tap into that and get that moving.”
The feedback was very strong – lots of kudos to the remarkable Mooresville staff, their incredible students, and the community that “bought in” four years ago. “You are to be commended for your outstanding team and your transparency,” noted one superintendent. “Our job is to take this process back to our districts, model that behavior and leadership to our staff and community, thereby providing an opportunity for every one of our stakeholders to grow & add value to student outcomes.”
Another summarized: “It’s possible this movement, started here in tiny Mooresville, can actually reverse our fortunes and save public education in our country. This is a new fresh innovative idea that can infuse public education with new life. Everything is thoughtful, purposeful – the laptops and software give kids pride – it helps them feel part of something bigger. The student has to be the most important person here – and our education system – it’s the backbone of everything else we have as a nation – we need to move forward.”
The symposium broke with a high note – as Dr. Mark Edwards, host, thanked the attendees but offered a gentle warning: “…you will hit obstacles, when you do, help each other, model positive leadership, and remember – it’s about the children and owing them the best future we can give them.”
The Mooresville team already has sign-ups for next year’s Summer Connections 2012 – to handle the crowd, if the story and national and international level interest keeps growing, they may need to rent out the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Isn’t this what President Obama had in mind?