Schools Seek Support for Improved Classrooms, Tech Tools
Moore County Schools will need more support in coming years as it looks to improve technology and upgrade its schools, Schools Superintendent Aaron Spence told county commissioners Friday.
Spence's remarks came on the second day of the commissioners' two-day annual retreat at the new Rick Rhyne Public Safety Center in Carthage.
The atmosphere was casual - commissioners wore blue jeans - but the talk was all business as officials looked at the school -system's future needs.
"We are really clear on our vision, which includes a focus on literacy and on closing the achievement gap," school board member Ed Dennison told commissioners. "And while we allocate resources to those goals, there are still challenges left."
Spence said that one key item in closing the opportunity gap lay in assuring that the county's students were in "21st century" facilities.
"If you take our five newest schools out of the equation, our average facility is more than 45 years old," Spence said. "Today's students are technology driven, and require a very different model of instruction."
Spence used literacy teaching as an example.
"In the 1950s, teachers taught kids who sat in rows and listened," he said. "Today's classrooms are characterized by small group instruction which require more space. Our schools are not built for this spread out space. It's hard for students to become involved in out of the box thinking when they are sitting in rows and listening."
School board member Bruce Cunningham offered a personal example of how learning has changed.
"My daughter is a senior at Pinecrest, and she takes four classes. One is at the high school, one is at Sandhills Community College, and two are online with the North Carolina School of Science and Math. While we were on a recent trip, we stopped at a hotel at a certain time of day so that my daughter could plug in her laptop and take a class. The changes in 21st century education are mind blowing."
"It's a very different paradigm from what we remember," Spence said. "Before, the teacher closed the classroom door and went to work. Now, she opens the door and the students work with others."
Spence emphasized the ongoing need for more technology in the schools.
"I believe the search for resources should be a high priority," he said. "That said, if we buy a set of laptops for a school with no plan to refurbish, in about four years we will be in trouble. We have to have sustainability."
Commissioner Larry Caddell told Spence he admired how the schools were encouraged to "think outside of the box."
"The old ways are gone," he said.
Commissioners Chairman Nick Picerno then asked State Rep. Jerry Tillman, who was at the meeting, if there was any way to change state law to allow lottery funds to be used for buying technology.
"Can we refocus the use of lottery funds?" he said. "It seems odd that we can't use these funds to build technology, especially considering the cost savings in not purchasing textbooks, calculators and other items that would be available as an app on a laptop."
Tillman said that he tried.
"I filed a bill to put all lottery monies in school construction, but it didn't get anywhere," he said.
Picerno asked how the board could help him achieve this goal.
"Would it help if the boards came to Raleigh to lobby?" he asked.
Tillman said the group would need "to talk to the five or six people in Raleigh who make the decisions, and it would be helpful if you spoke with one voice." Tillman then agreed to set up such a meeting.
Picerno emphasized that the county would not need additional money, but would be "using money that we already have but in a more efficient way."
"We want to do this without going for more taxpayer money," he said. "We want to use the very successful Mooresville school district's technology-driven program as a model, but we want Moore County to be even better."
Tillman called Picerno's proposal "a great idea."
"Moore County Schools is to be commended," he said. "I would like you to have total control and flexibility with these funds."
Picerno called the discussion with school officials "positive."
"We're on the same page, and we have the same mission and goals," he said.
Commissioner Jimmy Melton quipped that listening to the school officials speak was akin to "getting an education."
"When I began on this board six years ago, the relationship between the county and the school board was nonexistent," he said. "(Former school superintendent) Dr. Purser opened up dialog and began working with us real well.
"I feel this is going to be an exciting year because the board has been given information we needed and so has the public. Technology is the future, and God knows it's a constant battle to keep up. I commend you all for the job you're doing, and I believe both boards understand the objectives we are trying to achieve."
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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