Schools putting technology funds to use
By Sarah Campbell
Local school districts are using Race to the Top dollars now to prepare for the future.
The Rowan-Salisbury School system has received more than $2 million from the federal reform grant. The Kannapolis City district’s allotment is about $566,000.
That money can be budgeted for use throughout a four-year period, but a large part of it is being used on the front end in preparation for upcoming changes.
Both school systems are pouring money into professional development and technology infrastructure, which will equip schools with wireless connectivity and increase bandwidth. Officials said professional development has been centered around preparing teachers and administrators for the switch to the common core and essential standards, a state-led initiative that focuses on preparing students for college and work.
“The idea is to move from a curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep to a more concentrated curriculum that deepens as time goes on,” said Dr. Rebecca Smith, Rowan-Salisbury’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Smith said the district has used the five additional days mandated by the state for training done both face-to-face and through the use of technology.
“Teachers have been very, very busy this year,” she said. “The idea is that we have been trying to support and prepare teachers for this transition.”
Debra Morris, assistant superintendent in Kannapolis, described the new standards as more in-depth and rigorous with a focus on problem solving.
“We’re happy that we have the funds this year so that we can really feel like we’ll have the teachers prepared and comfortable when they come back in the fall,” she said.
Both districts used Race to the Top funding to pay substitutes if teachers had to be out of class and pick up travel bills for out-of-district training.
Smith said the Race to the Top funds came in at a vital time with the state nixing dollars for professional development.
“We really don’t have the capacity at the central office level to do all the development of curriculum materials and to do training for every instructional person in the district,” Morris said. “If we didn’t have some additional funding to help support that, it really would be a hardship.”
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School officials say the need to strengthen the technology foundation stems from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s plans to move its accountability testing online by 2014.
“We have to be sure that we upgrade the technology infrastructure in all 35 of our schools and be sure that they have the wireless capabilities to handle the switch,” said Alesia Burnette, director of school improvement for Rowan-Salisbury.
The district looked at targeting North Rowan High, Carson High, North Rowan Middle, Knox Middle and Overton Elementary for wireless connectivity first because those schools already have access to mobile devices such as iPods and MacBooks.
Morris said wireless connectivity at Kannapolis Intermediate is a priority.
“A lot of our money right now is going to make sure the intermediate school has the support system and infrastructure in place for technology,” she said.
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Both districts have also invested in Class-Scape, an online benchmark assessment tool, to ensure that teachers can track students throughout the year.
“We should be progress monitoring. That’s what we’ve really tried to train our teachers to do,” Smith said. “They should every day be checking where their students are in terms of achievement and not leaving it to guesswork.”
Smith said the district had already been utilizing ClassScape in particular courses, but it’s now a tool being used district-wide.
Morris said teachers in Kannapolis have been collecting data with ClassScape throughout the year and using the feedback in their instruction.
“Teachers really like it because it gives them a sense of where their kids are in terms of strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “We felt like we needed to strengthen that area.”
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Rowan-Salisbury has also used Race to the Top dollars to support beginning teachers.
“We’ve set aside some of our funds to revamp mentoring training,” Burnette said.
Burnette said the money is used to provide mentors with a stipend. New teachers had traditionally been given mentors in the past, but the state eliminated funding for that support.
Smith said money has also been used to provide teachers with training in differentiated instruction.
“A big piece of our instruction model is meeting all the different types of learner needs in the classroom,” she said.
Race to the Top money has also been tapped for additional support at Knox Middle School, which is considered a high needs school.
A parent liaison has been hired at Knox to provide outreach. That person also works at North Rowan High School.
A curriculum coach has also been hired to provide teachers with additional training, which is based on needs expressed by teachers or identified through data.
“She works with them on things like classroom management, writing a good, strong lesson plan and making sure their curriculum is aligned with the standards,” Smith said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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Race to the Top
The federal reform grant is aimed at driving school improvement by addressing four key areas:
• Adopting international benchmarked standards and assessment that prepare students for the future.
• Recruiting, developing, retaining and rewarding effective teachers and principals.
• Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices.
• Turning around the lowest-performing schools.
North Carolina is one of nine states and the District of Columbia to receive money in the second round of the competition, which encourages educational innovation and reform.
North Carolina received $400 million from the grant, approximately half of which is earmarked for distribution to local education agencies.
Funds were allocated to each school district based on Title I and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act fund