School board makes history

School board members reeive Level One training from the SCSBA. Front, l - r: Dr. Thelma Dawson, Wanda Hassler, and Maureen Thomas; back, Billy Baldwin, Chair Connell Delaine and Dr. Eddie Ingram

School board members reeive Level One training from the SCSBA. Front, l – r: Dr. Thelma Dawson, Wanda Hassler, and Maureen Thomas; back, Billy Baldwin, Chair Connell Delaine and Dr. Eddie Ingram

Darlington County Board of Education votes to put technology in the hands of all students

By Jana E. Pye, Editor,

In a groundbreaking vote, each member of the Darlington County Board of Education voted unanimously at their August 10th meeting to go forward with the bold plan to put a digital device in the hands of each child – a ratio of 1:1 -in the Darlington County School District by the school year 2017-18.

“Really and truly, tonight we are talking about history and making history, because this is a significant change for our students.” said Diane Sigmon, Technology Director, during her presentation to the board members. “You need to pat yourselves on the back because you have been actively funding technology for a number of years … Now tonight what I want to talk to you about is putting that in the hands of kids. We call it Digital Transformation, some districts call it Conversion, but we feel like Transformation is stronger word and because that is what is really going to happen in our classrooms when children have access to
these tools. This levels the playing field for all the students.”

The board members approved two action items on their agenda, Digital Materials Pilot Grant (Phase II) based on funding from the South Carolina State Department of Education, and the Digital Transformation Plan.”

“If a kid is walking around with a MacBook Pro in his backpack and has Internet access, he has access to more information than the Library of Congress,” said Superintendent Dr. Eddie Ingram. “Those are not my words, those are the words of the author of the book (referring to “Every Child, Every Day” by Mark A. Edwards, a book that the district has been using to achieve their goals.) “And it is absolutely true, it is definitely transforming and exciting and it’s bold. How many school districts are truly 1 : 1 in this state?”

Sigmon answered, “Maybe one that is truly one to one, there are a lot of districts that have pockets that have finished their middle schools or something, but all of us are working toward it. But you would be on the ‘bow of the ship’ to use someone else’s words you would be commended for making it.”

The district has long subscribed to the goal to put technology into the hands of each student, and made major headway last year by receiving a $1.229 million dollar grant through the South Carolina Department of Education; the purpose of the pilot was to provide instructional materials and digital instructional materials limited to middle and high schools.

According to Sigmon, the pot of money was limited to six school districts in the state and Darlington County was one of six. “Several of us will be re-applying for Round II, a couple of projects were funded in their entirety so those districts will go off and perhaps some more will come on.”
Her original request was for $5.3 million dollars.

With the pilot, the district purchased 600 laptops that went to 10th and 11th grade students at Darlington High School; for this year’s request, they pulled that number out. With the remaining DHS current 9th and 10th grade students added to the total of high school students in the entire district for a total of 2,520 laptops needed for each high school student in the district.

In our middle school, 2184 iPads are needed to furnish each middle school student with a device -less the amount already purchased for Spaulding Middle School, who received theirs in Phase 1 of the iTel pilot.

Sigmon said the goals are to provide iPads and cases for 6th, 7th and 8th grade students and then we want to do professional development for teachers.
At Darlington High, we would provide MacBook Airs with cases for the remaining 9th and 10th grade students; the ones we issued last year to 10th and 11th have rolled up with those students now 11th and 12th graders. And again, everything we do, we provide professional development for our teachers.

At the remaining high schools, we would put MacBook Airs with all students – and professional development. Apple is working with the district to make this a model for South Carolina in iTunes U.

Special provisions will be made to allow students access to information offline if they do not have the Internet at home.

“We just received notice on Friday that this grant was coming up again, so it was important that we take what we had and just mold it into our new plan and accomplishments and basically what we are going to ask them to do is to provide iPads for students 6th through 8th those that are left, and fund laptops for students 9 – 12 so our total request is $4.4 million. We shoot for the moon, $4.4 I can tell you is the total pot. And we are not going to get all that, so what we have to do is once they come back to us with a number, we will come back to you with a revised plan.”

All of the laptops issued last year were returned, and only four had minor damage.

The laptops have a projected lifespan of 4 years, and the tablets an estimated 3 years.

After the meeting, Diane Sigmon and shared a congratulatory hug with Carla Jefferson, the new Technology Instruction Coordinator
“I am beyond excited,” said Sigmon. “It’s been a vision for fourteen years when we first put our first wireless infrastructure in and we weren’t quite ready for it, and now we are. We’ve been trying to build capacity with our teachers really actively since 20111 when our e-Learning plan was first written and ultimate vision of every child having their own device. It’s like I said in our presentation, our focus is on teaching ad learning its not the device it’s not the fact they have an iPad versus some other type of tablet, its about the big picture and making sure it gets integrated like it is supposed to.”

The new technology has made not only the students more enthused to learn, it has affected the teachers as well.

“The students last year were just thrilled, I haven’t heard any negative comments at all.” said Sigmon. “And it really energizes the teachers, too because it gives them something new and different. And I know we got a similar response when we put the promethium boards in in 20015. Beth Herring, a teacher at the Hartsville Middle School, and she said you know I was ready to retire but now I am re-energized so I think we have great teachers and it will help to reenergize them. We are excited to take that journey with them.”

All other action items were approved as well.

Policy JICA/JICA-R Student Dress/Articles/Displays:
Revisions were made and approved.

White House Building Sale/Transfer:
The White House has been a valued part of the Darlington County School District; however, the school district no longer needs it, and the cost of its upkeep is significant. The district had hoped a suitable alternative could be found instead of demolition. Mr. Lee Wilson has offered to move the White House to his property and restore it for private use.

The board approved the sale/transfer of the deed to the White House building located at 131 St. John’s Street to Mr. Lee Wilson for $1.

Council member Warren Jeffords amended the action to include that if the house is not moved in a reasonable amount of time, the property will revert back to the school district.

Act 155 Diplomas:
Board voted to approve students petitioned the school district for a diploma under Act 155.

Copier Replacement:
Board voted to accept lowest bid offer from Coker Business Systems to replace aging copiers in the district.

Comprehensive Health Curriculum:
Board voted to approve the introduction of the supplemental comprehensive health curriculum provided through the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy with funds from a Duke Endowment Grant. The curriculum is available for review; there is an opt-out for parents who do not wish for their children to participate in the program.

Superintendent’s Update:
Teachers were given a $250 supply check on their first day back, August 10.

Possible merger of Brunson-Dargan and Cain Elementary Schools:
Ingram recapped the board’s workday discussion on Friday July 31st with capital plans. discussing potential merger of Brunson Dargan and Cain Elementary Schools. The district plans to schedule community meetings to discuss potential costs and needs of the project.

“There is benefit to one elementary rather than two in the same general area,” said Ingram. “Merging schools and renovating schools definitely a much more cost effective mechanism to achieve upgraded facilities. We’ve done that in other areas of the district so far with a lot of success. It’s not just a cost saving mechanism; it’s an instructional mechanism. I think that is probably the bigger issue. You don’t want to move children too often, we don’t want to send them three, four or five places as they matriculate though school, if we can avoid it. Plus with capital improvements, every time I see a roof go on a school or a replacement roof it seems like it is a million dollars. It’s a lot of money. Given that our school district has shrunk in size, over the past 10, 11, 12 years or so and the trend indicates it’s not likely to go back up in the near future these seem to be prudent options. We are committing to meetings this fall in the Cain-Brunson areas to get as much community input and comments and feedback as possible before we ask the board to proceed.”

Lamar Task Force for Potential Merger of Spaulding Elementary and Lamar Elementary Schools:
Carlita Davis reported that the Lamar Task Force visited Brockington Elementary to see what a school would look like that had undergone a renovation. “They were very impressed, they saw and understood by the end of the day the advantage of numbers…having two schools come together so there is a larger population and opportunities are given to students because of the numbers for funding is given to larger numbers. At the end of the day, we did find they wanted more information.”

Surveys were given to parents at registration, which the task force will study. A presentation will be given to the board in November with recommendations based on community input and surveys.

No News on Spring Testing
According to Linda Navarro, the S.C. State Department is still trying to decide which test the public schools will be taking in the spring. “The rewritten RFP is out for review at this time before it will be released for people to bid so we are three months behind where we were last year.”
Dr. Ingram shook his head. “BUT we are going to teach students reading, writing and arithmetic and we will do it in a responsible way.”

Author: Duane Childers

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