Every student, every day in North Carolina

Have you heard of “edutourism”? It’s traveling to observe a high-performing school district.

One of the best examples is Mooresville, North Carolina – a town of 32,000 with three claims to fame: (1) it’s home to a number of NASCAR drivers, (2) Lowe’s Companies is headquartered there and (3) it has an acclaimed school district that has been favorably profiled in numerous education journals as well as mainstream media.

“It’s the only time The New York Times and Fox News agreed on something,” cracked Mooresville Superintendent Mark Edwards, in a Sunday session at NSBA’s Annual Conference in Boston entitled “Digital Conversion for Equity, Excellence and Every Child, Every Day!”

The last four words are the district’s motto. “We don’t have enough respect for consistency,” said Edwards, who was named Superintendent of the Year by AASA in 2013 and is the co-author of two books on his district’s experiences with a one-to-one computing initiative.

Coinciding with that initiative has been some remarkable progress in the 6,200-student district, where half the students are on free or reduced-price lunch. The four-year graduation rate has jumped to 90 percent in 2015, up from 77 percent in 2007. Recently 98 percent of African-American students graduated, despite a 30 percent achievement gap in prior years.

The hardware is actually a small piece of the puzzle, said Edwards. He attributed the district’s remarkable progress to having great teachers who know how to collaborate using technology and a school culture that cares about children, pays attention to data, and seeks to empower students to pursue self-directed forms of learning.

He recounted that when a business executive visited the district, he asked a student how he was doing on reading. “I’m doing great,” was the answer. How do you know, the executive asked. The student replied, “Do you know what a trajectory is?” and showed him a chart of his reading scores compared to grade level throughout the year.

The executive pressed on. He asked how he could be sure that his progress in the first half of the year will be as strong in the second. The boy replied, “Because I’m in charge of my learning.”

Edwards warned visitors to his district should expect noisy classrooms, because the district gets students involved in projects that have them interacting with each other routinely.

One common sense tip that Edwards offered was this: Don’t waste time. Far too much time in school is wasted in having students transition from one activity to another, he said.

One phrase in his district uses is “Use the full hour.” That’s what the district’s motto -- “Every Student, Every Day” really comes down to, he said. 

Eric Randall

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