Rock Hill schools goal of putting a computer in the hands of every student would be a life changer not only for students, but for businesses and the community at large, says Mark Edwards, the national school superintendent of the year.
The superintendent of Mooresville (N.C.) Graded School District Edwards started a computer-based program to improve his districts performance five years ago. On Tuesday, he said his schools have yet to reach their potential.
But Mooresvilles results have improved so much that Rock Hill educators and those from 40 states, Canada and other foreign countries have gone there to see whats being done right.
Edwards shared the successes with about 300 Rock Hill business and community leaders Tuesday at the first High Tech Gala, sponsored by the Rock Hill School District Foundation.
The foundation wanted to raise $250,000 to help the district with its iRock computer initiative and other education projects. By the end of the banquet at the DiGiorgio Campus Center at Winthrop University, the foundation had collected $190,000 with pledges still being accepted.
For Mooresville students, end-of-grade testing scores have risen, disciplinary actions have dropped 50 percent, graduation rates have increased to 90 percent from 64 percent, scholarships earned by graduates have increased 300 percent and the school district ranking rose to No. 2 from No. 109 out of 212 N.C. school districts.
We are preparing students for their future and not our past, Edwards said.
Edwards recalled the first computer distribution on a hot August day. A grandmother and her three grandsons waited in the heat for a computer. Edwards had her come inside the school and asked what he could do.
The grandmother said she had only $37 to pay the $50 per-student computer fee. Edwards said the Mooresville school foundation could help her with the fee.
When she left with her grandsons and with three computers she grabbed Edwards hand and said, Youve changed my life.
In Mooresville, 42 percent of students qualify for reduced-price or free lunch, meaning that dont have to pay the $50 fee. But Edwards said only 20 percent ask for assistance. Its a matter of pride for the other families to come up with the money, he said.
There will be bumps and turbulence along the way if Rock Hill adopts its iRock initiative, he said, urging leaders to recognize that not everyone learns at the same pace.
Perceptions about technology can vary dramatically between teachers and students, Edwards said.
When the Mooresville district tested new software, officials asked students how long it would take for them to understand it. Initially students said forever, Edwards said.
How long was forever? At least over the weekend, they said.
The teachers answer was about two semesters, Edwards said.
Both were right.
The biggest change students, parents and teachers see is the ability to instantly track performance, ultimately making report cards obsolete, Edwards said. Teachers can look at data and know which students are doing well and which students need help immediately.
Mooresville schools effort also has affected economic development, he said, as companies are looking to locate there and the number of people coming to study the school has pumped $2.5 million into local hotels.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066