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Tiny Mooresville Grabs White House Stage

September 30, 2011 - 4 Comments

Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy, Office of Science & Technology, leads a Digital Promise panel of educators and technologists.

“So Dr. Edwards, can you explain to the audience what’s behind the success you’ve had at Mooresville, in implementing technology that has so changed students lives?” The question was posed by Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy in the Office of Science and Technology. Kalil was moderating a panel of distinguished educators and technologists – and the venue? A White House conference called on creating more access for technology in US K-12 schools.

I was not at all surprised to see Dr. Edwards on the White House stage on this beautiful fall day. In fact I saw all this coming when I first visited the tiny hamlet of Mooresville, North Carolina, back in April of this year. The more classrooms I was pulled into, the more kids I saw “leaning in”, the more the “buzz” reflected off the cinder hallway walls…the more I figured there was to the Mooresville story.

So the White House appearance? No surprise. After all, President Obama himself back in January announced to the nation:

“…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.”

Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education confers with Dr. Mark Edwards (L), Mooresville Superintendent at White House Conference.

So with this distinguished panel in mid-September, the White House rolled out “Digital Promise” – a new public/private partnership aimed at accelerating the inclusion and access to new education technologies for schools. It’s backed by the White House Office of Science and Technology, and the Department of Education. It has a newly appointed board – including John Morgridge, Chairman Emeritus of Cisco, and Irwin Jacobs, co-founder of Qualcomm. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan himself noted that this new NGO will unite companies, entrepreneurs, foundations, schools and technology providers around the common goal of helping drive much-needed innovation in our schools.

As a corollary to Digital Promise, the White House also announced the newly formed “League of Innovative Schools.” This League will represent best practices, with some of the leading proof point school districts in the nation, like Mooresville, expected to join.

At this meeting in Washington D.C., it was impressive to see the people assembled through the executive branch’s “power to convene.” Much discussion was aired on how this League and new NGO could guide and steer the proposed $25B in Federal spending contained as a plank within President Obama’s new $447B Jobs Bill. And the many school district superintendents in attendance were pleased to see this step being taken by both the Obama Administration and the Department of Education.

David Weiner, Deputy Chancellor for Education for the New York City Department of Education, commented on how companies like Cisco are making a difference in their own New York City “iZone” work – especially in the areas of bringing new video, collaboration, and networking technologies to the students, teachers and schools. John Morgridge was also recognized by Duncan as having had a “major impact” on teaching and learning through his well-known philanthropy work in US education. Between Morgridge, Mooresville, and New York City Schools – Cisco was fairly well represented.

Graphic shows MGSD graduation rate, growing to 91% at end of 2011 school year.

And Mooresville? They just continue to chug on like the school district that can. They recently confirmed 2011 year-ending data: test scores pushed up to an 88% composite, now #3 in the state of North Carolina. But the stunner – the 5-year graduation rate has soared from 64% in 2006 to 91% in 2011. Like a controlled experiment – the only variables to these amazing graduation results have been technology, and district-wide leadership and commitment. That has now pushed the graduation rate at Mooresville to #2 in the state, out of 115 districts.

Can’t do that here? You may be right. But think about this. There are 14,000 school districts in the U.S., and 75% of them are the size of Mooresville, or smaller. In fact 70% of our districts have similar demographic and economic realities. MGSD is 40% free and reduced lunch, and has earned great marks over the last 5 years in the face of increasing local county poverty. Maybe we can’t do it everywhere – but we can start, and right down your street. Initiatives like Digital Promise and the League of Innovative Schools may help in fact ignite these much-needed conversations.

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  1. The post re: Holmes should have included the word “heaven” after “shut thee from…”

    Arthur Dasher

  2. M y granddaughter, Katie Amos, is a prime example of the educational philosophy of the Mooresville school district. This atmosphere has given her new challenges (as a Governor’s Scholar) to pursue excellence in her preparation for life. She is exceptionally bright to start with, and the system has enhanced this and made even greater heights possible. As Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote when he cut open the shell of a chambered nautilus and looked in awe at her majesty: “Build thee more stately mansions, oh my soul, as the swift seasons roll; leave thy low-vaulted past; let each new temple nobler than the last shut thee from with a dome more vast, ’til thou at last art free, leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea.” In the wacky and irresponsible world of educational philosophy and practice today, the Mooresville district school system is a shining light that has prepared the way for Katie’s future. Thank you.

    Fr. Arthur Dasher
    Retired Episcopal priest

  3. I am a parent in the Mooresville community and my children are products of the Mooresville Graded School District (MGSD). My daughter graduated in 2010 and my son will graduate in 2012. The use of technology in the classroom and at home has greatly enhanced their educational experience. The students of the MGSD are being prepared for the future they will encounter. Dr. Edwards is a visiionary who fostered an environment where an entire school district understands the meaning the motto “Every Child, Every Day.” The committment on everyone’s part (Schools, Every Employee, Business Partners and the Community)has allowed the digital conversion’s success. There is still more work to do but we have seen that attendance is up, graduation rates are up, test scores are up all while suspensions and absentism are down. The Digital Technology is a huge part of the success we have experienced but without the proper implementation, the support of every individual employed and involved with the MGSD, we don’t see this kind of improvement. Other school districts are beginning to discover the path we are on.
    The Digital Technology, the MGSD and Dr. Edwards are not only teaching students, they are inspiring them!

  4. Thanks for recognizing Mooresville. You are so right that laptops and the use of digital resources has brought about huge change. I was not a proponent when the idea first came about because I am an EC teacher and I feared another great learning curve for our students. However, what I have found is that it goes a good distance in leveling the playing field. Students have many options for both receiving and expressing learning. They are motivated by “applicable” instruction; this generation was born into technology But the other KEY in this conversion and district-wide transformation has been the use of PBS (positive behavior support) in the early grades and, at middle and high school levels, the acceptance that a school’s culture must change. You mentioned commitment — and nowhere in my thirty-five years of working with students have I seen it as we have it here. “Students don’t care what you know until they know that you care”is more true today than ever. In our disconnected world, often blamed on technology, we have come together in an extraordinary way, empowered by our administration with the tools to “do and to care”. Mooresville is a phenomenal place to work.