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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why We Need To Talk About Technology

Click here for a link to the slide show.

From The Cornerstone Blog:

What does 21st century learning look like in an elementary school?

MAY 25, 2012
student on computerThat’s the question that was posed to me this week by the faculty at a wonderful school on Manhattan’s upper east side in preparation for some upcoming PD work. I think it’s an outstanding question that’s worth reflecting on in-depth as we all start to think about what our goals and direction are for the next school year. What does 21st century learning look like? is an essential question and overarching topic that I hope to come back to again and again as I think about what works in real classrooms.
It’s an especially important consideration at the elementary level, because so many of the tech trends in education are tested out and geared toward middle and high schools. One-to-one computer initiatives, for example, usually start at sixth grade or higher. Google Apps for Education is fabulous, but to what extent can seven- and eight-year-olds use it?  It takes a bit more reflection to figure out what the trickle-down effect of tech trends really means for the the youngest learners.
To me, 21st century learning in an elementary school has the same overall goals as a secondary school: it’s only the implementation that differs. We want students to be practicing the 4 C’s: communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. They should be producing content, not just consuming it passively. Though technology isn’t synonymous with 21st century learning, it IS an integral part of it, and it’s often the set of tools that makes this new approach to teaching and learning possible. The purpose of technology used in a 21st century classroom should be (in my opinion) to connect students with their world and enable them learn from others and to share their own ideas. It should also be used to differentiate the curriculum so that students are learning on their own developmental levels and are able to pursue their unique interests and passions.
I think that’s one of the greatest things about technology and one of the most exciting aspects of the vision for 21st century schools: that children are no longer all forced to learn the same thing the same way just because the teacher doesn’t have a simple way to differentiate. I don’t think we’re quite at the point where technology makes it “simple” to differentiate instruction, but certainly simpler. And with the thousands of new apps and websites being launched each day, I believe the quality and a variety of tools available for teachers is going to continue increasing. Even the most tech-averse teacher will be saying in 10 years,Wow, [insert name of tool/program/app] really makes it easier to help my students. How did I ever live without this? Many of us have already reached that point with tech tools in our personal lives (smart phones, laptops, tablets, eReaders): our teaching lives are going to be transformed soon, too. For some teachers, that’s already a reality, and it’s amazing to see.
So, the goals of 21st century learning in the elementary classroom are helping each child communicate, collaborate, and exercise creativity and critical thinking while both consuming and producing content that connects them with their world in ways that are personally meaningful and relevant. Wow, that’s a mouthful! And a tall order. What does it actually look like in the classroom?
Here are just a few resources which show photo and video examples of elementary teachers who have truly created 21st century classrooms in which students are not just consuming information but creating it:
The way 21st century learning works in your classroom will depend on a lot of factors, such as the types of tech tools you have available, your students’ needs, your curriculum, your administration’s requirements and vision, and your own familiarity and comfort with technology. There’s no one “right” way to teach 21st century skills or integrate technology in the classroom. You can pick and choose the things that make the most sense for you and your students.
Since technology use is one of the hardest aspects of 21st century learning for many teachers to incorporate (in large part due to school budget cuts and lack of tech resources/support), I’ll elaborate a bit more on what’s possible. If you’re wanting to shift your classroom more toward the 21st century vision, you can start with just one or two tools in one or two subject areas. Some elementary teachers like to take a single unit of study each quarter to extend their use of technology. For example, let’s say there’s a particular social studies unit that’s rather dry, or a math concept that the kids never quite seem to master. Check with your best friend, Google, and see what’s available. You can useinformation consumption tools at first: have kids watch videos online, read eBooks or websites, or useGoogle Earth to tour faraway places. You can try to choose one or two resources that are a bit more interactive, such as webquests or online quizzes.
Once you have that planned, try adding at least one information production tool in which students use technology to create something or share information themselves. They could use apps like Voicethread ori Tell a Story or Toontastic to collaboratively share what they’ve learned and give feedback to one another. They could create podcasts, upload videos to a class blog, Skype with other classes or communities, or create a glog. Pick one app or website that appeals to you and try it out.
You don’t have to use every program that’s out there, or introduce a new one with every unit. Young kids thrive off of familiarity, and it takes awhile to get them used to a tool. Pick something open-ended and revisit it throughout the year. Your students could use Voicethread, for example, to share a drawing they made about something they learned and explain it using video, audio, or text. You could create just one class Voicethread a month or even a quarter, or even a semester! (Here’s a Voicethread wiki with samples of project ideas to get you thinking.) It’s okay to start small!
So that’s my thinking on this topic right now. Over to you: What does 21st century learning look like in YOUR classroom? What are your favorite blogs and sites that show elementary students’ technology use? 

Leadership Changes For Rock Hill Schools

From Elaine T. Baker, Director of Information Services, Rock Hill Schools

Supt. Lynn Moody announced Wednesday that Dr. Sandra Lindsay-Brown has resigned as principal of The Children's School at Sylvia Circle, and Stephen Ward, the principal at Rosewood Elementary, has accepted a new position in the district office. Dr. Lindsay-Brown will be moving to Washington state where her husband, Bennish, has accepted a new job. Mr. Ward will become the Title 1 Core Content Integration Specialist (funded through Title 1).

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How One School District Explains Technology in The Classroom

Click here for a link to the video.

Rock Hill School District News For Wednesday, May 30, 2012.

From  Elaine T. Baker, Director of Information Services, Rock Hill Schools
Teacher of Year Honored Again by Honda of Rock Hill

Congratulations to Kelly Hollingsworth, the District's current Teacher of the Year. Kelly not only drives a beautiful 2012 Honda CR-V, but she was surprised last week when Cam Stewart, general manager of Honda Cars Rock Hill, showed up at Mt. Holly Elementary to bring her a bouquet of flowers and a $600 gift certificate for the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N. C. see photo at left.
Congratulations to the . . .
Rock Hill High Stock Market Team. Members Drew Bridges, Dylan Baker, Hunter Pike, Aakash Bhagat and Jack Walker were honored at the annual SCEconomics awards luncheon for "Best Overall Portfolio" for the 2011-12 school year. Their portfolio total $156,716 which was a profit of $56,716 over a 10-week period. Jennifer Molnar serves as the team's adviser.

Pat Manis Talks About Summer Reading Program

Straight Talk: 05/29/12 Diane Williams and Pat Manis

Posted May 29, 2012 1:12 pm, Modified: May 29, 2012 1:12 pm | Filed under Straight Talk
By Mike Crowder
Diane Williams and Pat Manis join Manning Kimmel on Straight Talk to talk about a summer reading program.

Divided Rock Hill School Board Approves Adding Staff, Food Service Contract, and Possible Tax Increase

The Rock Hill School Board held their May Business meeting on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at the district office. The meeting was moved from Monday because of the Memorial Day Holiday. The board took action on several items, and unusual for the board, many of the votes were not unanimous.

The following action items were taken:

  • The Consent Agenda was approved with a 7-0 vote. Included was; promotion of Richard Camp to Assistant Principal for Finley Road Elementary School for the 2012-13 school year; board minutes from the previous month; administration personnel recommendations; five recurring facility rental requests; a facility rental request from the Upper Palmetto YMCA and; a change in name for the Children's Attention Home Charter School to The Palmetto School at the Children's Attention Home.
  • The board approved Sodexo as the company to manage the district's food service. The vote was 5-2 with Sharp and Reid against. Read the Herald's reporting on this by clicking here and WRHI's reporting by clicking here.
  • The board approved an overnight field study request for the South Pointe Band to take a cruise. The vote was 6-1 with Brown against. Brown votes against all trips outside the continental US. He pointed out he has also voted against similar trips for Rock Hill and Northwestern High Schools.
  • The board approved the hiring of 6 teaching positions by a 4-3 vote with Norwood, Vining, and Brown against. Those against said this was putting the cart before the horse. This item is proposed in next years budget which includes a 6 mil tax increase and a reduction in the fund balance - two issues the board has not yet approved. Those voting in favor have apparently signaled their intent to continue to live beyond our means. The Superintendent did report if the Senate budget is approved, we would not have to raise milage but would have to take money from the reserve fund.
  • The board voted 6-1 (Brown against) to allow the United Way to use our vehicles during the summer at a discounted rate. The vehicles would be used only for Rock Hill School District Three students in a continuation of an academic support program which goes on through the school year. Brown felt with money being tight, we should charge the going rate for our vehicles.
  • The board voted 7-0 (after executive session) to create the position of District Title 1 Core Content Integration Specialist (Funded from Title 1 funds) and Exceptional Student Education Compliance Officer (funded from Medicaid Funds).
The board recognized the following:
  • The following graduating students who have not missed a day of school for 12 years; Joshua Adams and Alysa Underwood from Rock Hill High and; Katie Williams, Kally Williams and Avery Jackson from South Pointe High.
  • State History Day Winners; Kaylee Gaynor, Sophia Hubbard, Hannah Borders, Maddy Paladino, Alan Smith, Kyle Carter, Jonathan Yang, Kelsey Collins, Sha’Ron Nealy, Joshua Dantzler, Mary Kathryn McGregor, and Savannah Bridges. Every Rock Hill Middle School was represented this year.
  • Distinguished Climbers for May
The board heard the following reports:
  • Mabra Herlong, a 5th grade math teacher at Northside Elementary School, showcased student work using IPADS.
  • Heard a brief update on energy savings this year that were in excess of $1 million dollars. Bob Norwood pulled Anita Wilson's name out of the barrel in a drawing from major energy savers of the year. Anita, from The Children's School at Sylvia Circle, won a week vacation. The district partnered with York County Natural Gas, Duke Energy, and the City of Rock Hill.
  • The superintendent gave a brief presentation on her IROCK project and suggested teachers and parents should visit the site for more information as it gets updated over the summer.
  • The board received a brief update on the budget progress.
  • The board heard  there will very little major maintenance and no technology purchases next year without increasing taxes this summer. The board had historically only authorized the amount of money that coincided with a bond that was being retired. This was on a 4 year cycle because half of the money was being spent on technology which only has a 4 year life. A couple of years ago, with the board's consent, several bonds were combined into a longer term bond, to get a reduced interest rate.  Only about $800,000 in bonds will be retired this year but the district wants to spend $5 million.

Palmetto Mornings: Kally & Katy Williams

Posted May 30, 2012 9:50 am, Modified: May 30, 2012 9:50 am | Filed under Palmetto Mornings
By Colleen Brannon
Perfect attendance fro 13 years of school.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Stop playing games

Stop playing games and help all of our students
The Greenville News

Imagine you were a star quarterback in college. You return to your hometown and the community leaders ask you to coach the local football team, insisting on one condition — that you coach all the children in the community, not just the good players or the children whose parents will be involved with the team. Your mission will be
to ensure that all the children get to participate and become better players. You want to give back to your community so you
accept the job.

The community leaders only promise funding sufficient for an adequate, rather than a solid, program. Yet, due to budget constraints they actually provide just two- thirds of the limited funding they promised. They also require lots of testing that is well intentioned, but it means your players receive materially less practice time than
those on the privately-funded teams.

Your team has a solid season, and you accomplish the community’s goal of coaching all the children in the community. The vast majority of your players show significant improvement, even those who don’t receive support from their parents or practice at home.

The community leaders, however, claim that you failed as a coach because you did not win the championship. You remind them your mission was to coach a team open to all community children, not to
recruit an exclusive set of players with which to compete against the privately funded teams which select the players they want. Nevertheless, you say that you could do even better with the full funding the community leaders had promised, and perhaps a little more time to coach your players rather than test them.

To your disappointment, they refuse and offer community money to the parents of those children who already play on the private, exclusive teams. The community leaders claim they are doing this to make you try harder.

The community leaders also claim they are not actually giving community money to the private team parents, they are merely
telling these parents not to pay their full share to support community programs. You know, of course, that the result would be the same if the private team parents paid their full share and the community leaders returned a portion of it back to them. You wonder if the community leaders are fooling anyone with this argument.

The community leaders also offer a small amount of community money to the parents of any children who leave the community team to join a private team, claiming they are helping these children escape your
failing team. You ask why, if they believe the team is failing, would they only help a few of the children escape? Shouldn’t they help all the children? Shouldn’t they provide at least a minimally adequate amount of funding to the community team before funneling community funds to the private teams?

  • It is universally recognized that education drives economic prosperity. Improving public education will increase the community’s per capita income, decrease unemployment, reduce incarceration rates, decrease poverty, lower the community’s health care expenses, and result in a long- term reduction in our taxes.
  • Our Legislature has funded the minimum amount required by the Education Finance Act in only eight of the law’s 36 years and in only three of the last 10 years. For the 2011-12 school year, our Legislature provided only two-thirds of the amount required by statute.
  • Our Legislature proposes a tuition tax credit or school voucher bill almost every year. These bills are promoted with clever phrases such as the current “school choice” bill, but they do nothing to help improve our public schools. Instead, they will contribute to the state’s inability, or unwillingness, to fully fund our public schools, to the detriment of the entire community.
  • These proposals would use state tax dollars to pay for student enrollment in a private school, reducing state revenue by millions of dollars annually. The 2012 proposal is estimated to reduce state revenue by $36.7 million in its first year. The cost to taxpayers would increase in subsequent years. By far most of the benefit from this legislation would go to families with children already attending private schools.
  • This bill would in essence be a taxpayer funded bail-out of parents who have already chosen to send their children to private schools.
  • Please ask your legislator to oppose these bills, to increase funding to our public schools, and to focus on helping allof our community’s children.

Neil Grayson is a Greenville lawyer and board member of Public Education Partners and the South Carolina Student Loan Corporation. Write to him at .

The Rock Hill Summer Reading Coalition

Palmetto Mornings: 05/24/12 Terry Plumb

Posted May 24, 2012 4:11 pm, Modified: May 24, 2012 4:11 pm | Filed under Palmetto Mornings
By Colleen Brannon
York County Library’s Dream Big reading program.

The Rock Hill Summer Reading Coalition, comprised of community volunteers and employees of Rock Hill Schools, the York County Library, Winthrop University, and others is sponsoring a "Summer Reading Challenge" for elementary schools. The winning school will receive a $500 cash award sponsored by Continuum Capital Advisory.
The rules for the Challenge are below. Read them and encourage your students to participate. Winning the exceptional cash prize could benefit your school in many ways, but think of the benefits for our students who continue to read during the summer.

Proposed Rules for
Summer Reading Challenge

1. A $500 cash award will go to the Rock Hill School District elementary school that has the highest percentage of students who complete the “Dream Big” reading log. The percentage of students participating will be based on the official population count of each school as determined on the final attendance in the Spring 2012 term, as reported by RHSD. The percentage shall be calculated to 1/10 of a percentage point or further, if necessary. In the event of an absolute tie, the $500 prize will be split equally among winning schools.

2. Eligible children will include all children who were enrolled in kindergarten through fifth grade for the spring semester 2012. Logs turned in on behalf of children who are to enroll in kindergarten in the Fall 2012 term will NOT count. When they turn in a completed log, rising sixth-graders should report for their elementary school, not the middle school they will attend in the fall.

3. To be counted, the log must be obtained from a branch of the York County Library, the YCL Bookmobile or other Library outreach initiative (e.g., visit to daycare center). Logs must be originals. Reproductions will not be accepted.

4. This is for a single log. Students who turn in more than one completed log will not be counted more than once.

5. To be counted, logs must be turned in to the York County Library by
6 p.m., Friday, July 27, 2012. Logs received after the deadline will not be counted for the contest.

6. Determination of the winning school will be made by the Summer Reading Coalition, based on data supplied by the YCL and RHSD.

7. The monetary prize will be presented to the winning school and made out to that school’s PTO, provided the organization has 501(c3) status. If not, the check will be made out to the Rock Hill School District on behalf of the winning school.

8. Timing and method for announcing the winning school shall be coordinated by the YCL and the Summer Reading Coalition.

Rock Hill Parents Want To Know

Several  parents have asked me questions over the past few weeks which I think probably need to be answered for all to see. Comments in Red will be mine. I asked the administration to give me an official response to why the last two days of the year are half days and an explanation of the elementary report cards. Their answers are in blue.
  1. Why did we have those Fridays off at the end of the year? You can actually blame the school board for that (May 18, 25 were Fridays and May 31 is a Thursday). They were reserved for bad weather make-up days - which we had none this year. After the media uproar over going to school on MLK day, and not wanting to take any of the spring holidays, the board directed the administration to find days that would not delay high school graduation and would avoid all holidays. The administration felt that if the days had just been tacked on at the end of the year, there was too much delay between the time school got out and graduation. Next year, two teacher work days will be used and the Memorial Holiday. This is a situation where you can't make everybody happy. The best solution is to have no bad weather make-up days. I wish we could get someone on board who can control the weather.
  2. Why are the last two days of the school year half days? Half Days -We are required to go 180 days (3 of which can be half days).  Every year teachers request we use the last two days as half days.  This is mostly driven by the high schools.  High school students take 2 exams a day.  So after their exams, it does not seem logical to make them go to a class where they have already had a final exam.   Elementary and middle school students have "programs" (like field days, graduations,  etc.) and parents check them out of school.  So, we have very few students left.  Half days have created an interesting situation with this years calendar. With the Memorial Day holiday on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as half days, and Thursday being off as a non used bad weather day, essentiallyelementary and middle school students only have one day for the week and a lot of parents elected to end school on Thursday, May 24, 2012. Non senior high school students must come to take exams on Tuesday and Wednesday. It will be interesting to see what attendance is this week.  I remember events a little differently. High School teachers have to grade final exams so report cards can go out. They have always had half days for this purpose. High school students often provide transportation for younger siblings at middle schools and when the high school gets out early, they often check out their riders at the same time, causing disruption in the middle schools. I think taking a half day for the last day probably has some merit, but the next to last day does not. Regardless, the board has supported the administration's recommendation on this issue.
  3. Why doesn't the district have a weekly newsletter that parents can sign up for and post links to all the district blogs on it's web site? Probably should, but I believe this effort should be done at the lowest level in the organization. The higher up the organization, the more filtered and the farther away from where the real action is happening. Parents should have this discussion with their Principal and links should be posted on their school's web site. Your Principal should be the "go to person" for all the information you need. If they don't have it, they can get it. If they are not doing the job, see if you can help, or carry your request to the district office.
  4. The Elementary Report Card is hard to understand. Can someone help explain it to parents so they will know how their child is doing?   Bottom line is we want parents to really know what their child is able to do.    They should also meet with their child's teacher for an individual conference on how to read them. There is also an explanation on the web site. Click here to see what is posted. I have not seen a completed report card. If it is not easy to determine how your child is doing, it needs to be changed. After all, that is the purpose of the report card, whether grades are used or not. The school administration made the change without action by the board. As a board member, I can tell you they are very proud of the change and believe it is cutting edge. It can be controversial, and when a similar change was proposed for the high schools, parents started rebelling. So much so, some contacted Dr. Zais who issued a memo in April against one of the proposed changes. Click here to see the memo from The SC State Superintendent of Education to Superintendents. I think the administration asked the right question but might have come up with the wrong answer. We should require everyone to have 100% competency of the standards before moving on. (You've heard the story about the airline pilot that announces after take off that he just passed his certification with a 70 - made 100 on take offs and 40 on landings). This could be done with a correctly implemented one to one computing system. You would  know how well your student is doing by how far they were along on the standards, A proper one to one program would allow the accelerated  student to progress to a higher grade level.

So, there you have it. The board has taken action on the first two questions and has not taken action on the last two. Of course, the comments in red are still mine and do not reflect the opinion of any other board member. You should know that I get a lot more questions than those posted above. Those  seemed to be timely and reflect questions I've gotten from a very diverse group of parents. I have a lot of confidence in our  school administrators and believe they can answer most of your questions. If not, you can always call on a board member.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Graduation Message

The graduation speech below was posted on the Get Schooled blog today. It is from a retiring teacher from Decatur High School in Georgia. I'd like to think it could apply to any school. It is worth your time to read:

A wonderful commencement speech about “uncommon” students and fallen heroes

A Decatur HIgh student presents the letter from the senior class asking retiring teacher Chris Billingsley to be the commencement speaker. (DHS)
A Decatur HIgh student presents the letter from the senior class asking retiring teacher Chris Billingsley to be the commencement speaker. (DHS)
The Decatur High commencement speaker this weekend was retiring teacher Chris Billingsley, who kindly sent me a copy of his speech. (You can read a bit about him in this story in the Decatur Patch.)
With his approval, I am sharing his speech as it is the perfect Memorial Day weekend piece.  On a personal note, I am sorry that Mr. B. will not be at Decatur High when my twins arrive in 2013.
By Chris Billingsley
My sincere thanks go to the Class of 2012 for the honor of speaking to you this evening. Seeing you all sitting here tonight reminds me of my own graduation from St. Pius X in 1971. At my advanced age, there is very little I remember from that day. However, I do recall that the ceremony took place in the Fox Theater; how cool is that.
Sitting in front of the stage in that beautiful theater, I must admit that I was not listening to the commencement speaker. Instead, I was thinking about the moment when my name would be called to receive my diploma and how important it would be to look as cool as possible walking across the stage. I anticipated hearing the crowd cheer and maybe pumping my fist in the air as I walked across the stage. Then it happened; someone called out “Christopher Billingsley.”.
No one ever told me how cool I looked crossing the stage. I don’t think anyone was cheering. I was so nervous that I forgot all about the fist pump. I shook hands with my principal, Father Richard Kieran, walked off the stage, and it was over…or so I thought.
In my excitement to get out of St. Pius, I had no idea how much my high school would mean to me in the future. Time and time again, whether it was our regular class reunions or other get-togethers with my former classmates and friends, the love and affection I have for my alma mater grows stronger and stronger.
Most of the people that I made friends with over 40 years ago are still my closest friends. The love of my life is my wife, Mary Colbert Billingsley; we spent 12 years together in the same classrooms at St. Thomas More and then at St. Pius. Graduation was not the end of my connection to my high school. It remains an important part of my life to this day.
I have been told that my 35 year career at Decatur may be the longest at a single school in the history of City Schools of Decatur. Thirty-five years here is, indeed, a long time. But the history of Decatur High School is much longer. Contrary to what some of my students may believe, I was not teaching here when, 100 years ago, Decatur High School began. The year 1912 was not only important in Decatur’s history, but also in world history.
That year, the great ship Titanic, believed to be unsinkable, set sail on its maiden voyage from England to New York. As we all know, she struck an iceberg on the night of April 14th and was at the bottom of the ocean in about two hours, with almost 1,500 lost souls. I mention this because the oldest Decatur High School graduate I ever met was born around that same year.
His name was Mr. Lawrence Medcalf, and he lived most of his 95 years here in Decatur on Ponce de Leon Place, not far from the house that I grew up in, and where Jason Barefoot lives today. After I began teaching at Decatur, Mr. Medcalf would always ask me, “How are things at Decatur High? You know, I graduated from Decatur. Had a lot of great teachers while I was there. Great to see you again.”
His comments were always the same over the years, as if his experience at Decatur High School had really shaped his entire life. When he passed away several years ago, there were so many mourners at his funeral it created a huge traffic jam in Decatur. Mr. Medcalf had many, many friends and associates from a long career in Decatur. I don’t doubt that Decatur High School was an important part of his life.
One of the great privileges I had this year was meeting George H. Carley, associate justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, and soon to be sworn in as Chief Justice. This year’s Georgia Close-Up team met with Justice Carley and Justice David Nahmias while visiting the state Capital in March.
Justice Carley told the students that he was inspired to study law because of a teacher he had in the 10th grade here at Decatur High School. Her name is Miss Emily Norton, and because of her exceptional teaching, George Carley graduated from DHS and later the University of Georgia, where he received a law degree and started on a 50 year career that will culminate later this month when he is sworn in as Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. Miss Norton was still teaching here at Decatur when I began my career, and I remember her as an outstanding educator. Even today, when I meet her former students, they use terms like “brilliant” “inspiring” and “terrific sense of humor” to describe her and fondly recall her as their greatest teacher.
As a social studies teacher, I must confess, that I love local history. As I said earlier, Decatur High School has a long and interesting history, and it has been my privilege to pass some of this on to my students. Edward Ravenel, Charles Jackson and Gene Blough graduated from Decatur in the 1940s but were tragically killed while fighting during the Korean War.
This year’s Close-Up students were able to place a wreath at the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., in honor of these graduates. The previous year, the Close-Up team placed a wreath at the Vietnam Memorial in honor of Harry Edwards, a 1960 graduate who died when his jet crashed while on a mission over North Vietnam. Harry was so loved by his friends in the Class of 1960 that they created a scholarship, which was awarded to one of you earlier this week.
In 2010, the Close-Up team also honored another Decatur student. He did not graduate, but attended his freshmen through junior years here. He was in my civics and world history classes in 1996 and 1997. This young man transferred to another school and graduated, volunteered in the U.S. Army, and served in the War in Iraq.
Honestly, I did not really remember much about him. He was quiet and not the best student in his class. Yet, Ms. Arlethia Williams and I both remembered seeing in him the potential to become a leader. He left Decatur, and I must admit that I forgot about him until one day, during a Georgia Close-Up trip several years ago, I was strolling around the Capital rotunda in downtown Atlanta. There I saw portraits of more than 20 Georgians who have been killed in combat in Iraq. From across the room, I was strangely drawn to one portrait, which turned out to be Sergeant Jonathan Shields, my former student, who was killed during the Battle of Fallujah. I learned that he had indeed grown to be a fine leader. After graduation he joined the U.S. army, married and had a child. During the bitter fighting at Fallujah an explosion damaged his tank and several members of his team were badly injured.
He and others carried these soldiers to safety and, as it states in his battle commendation, “He quickly returned to his unit and the sound of the guns.” Sergeant Shields was killed later that day.
One of his friends later wrote: “I served with Shields in the same company for about three years. He was a great person to know, and an even better man to have on your side. Shields could always get a smile out of me no matter how mad or depressed I was. He just had that thing about him that no matter how bad things seemed, everything was actually all right. I always knew if I needed anything that I wasn’t able to get, Shields would know someone that would take care of us. That’s the type of person he was. He knew everyone and everyone like him. It was a privilege to have known him, and an honor to [serve] in combat with him. He will always be missed and never forgotten.”
I hope that sometime this Memorial Day weekend, you take the time to remember and honor the more than 50 graduates who gave their lives so that we could enjoy the freedoms we have.
All of these former students, whether they went on to a long, successful career or one cut short by tragedy, were once sitting right where you are now, at their graduation from Decatur High School. And just like you, they experienced the wonderful, and maybe the not so wonderful, aspects of school life. You have all heard the bells signal class changes, waited for lunch to begin, participated in athletic contests, school dances, field trips, gossip, lectures, and now your graduation. I would like to think that this evening is not the end of your high school experience, but instead the beginning of a new chapter in your high school story. As you grow older, you may find, just as I have, that the ties you have to your alma mater and this community will grow stronger and stronger.
Like many of us sitting here in front of you, and those behind you in the audience, I believe that you will look back on many parts of your high school years as some of the greatest moments in your lives…the pep rallies and homecoming floats, where the Class of 2012 always seemed to dominate…the class projects, especially the ones that impressed your 9th grade teachers four years ago, as well as your recent Senior Projects. All of these set a standard for excellence that your teachers will remember for many years to come.
We will remember your thrilling victories in athletics, as well as your tough defeats, knowing that in defeat you sometimes learn the virtues that will lead to success later in life. Virtues; these are the highest standards we strive for. Throughout your years in the City Schools of Decatur, your teachers have worked to teach you something about the virtues that have made the United States unique in the history of the world.
As one of your teachers, I discovered that I could talk to you day after day about the virtue of hard work and not make much of an impression, but when we spent the day at the Carter Center you learned the value and reward of hard work. You learned that Jimmy Carter was told repeatedly by his teachers and his principal that “any one of you can grow up to be president of the United States.”
You read books about courage and may have discussed it in the classroom but after a field trip to the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History and a walk across the Cheatham Hill Battlefield in Kennesaw, you learned that real courage is knowing you sometimes face overwhelming odds and yet you still fight on. Through our many service projects at Glenn Creek Nature Preserve, Dearborn Park, and the MLK Service Day, you have learned the virtue of generosity and the importance of sharing your time and talents. It is my hope that these lessons will stay with you throughout your life and shape you in becoming the next leaders of this city, state, and country.
As I said earlier, many students have shared stories with me over the years of how they were inspired by their teachers here at Decatur High School. Now that I am retiring, I would like to take this opportunity to say that I have always been inspired by my colleagues. It has been an honor to work with all of them over the past 35 years. But it is you, the students, who are my biggest inspiration.
As I have tried to teach you everything you need to know about Citizenship, U.S. History, and other subjects, you have taught me many things that cannot be found in textbooks or teaching manuals. For this, I am most grateful. You have made me a better teacher but more importantly, a better person. As I prepare for the next chapter in my life, I want to tell you some of the things we have learned together. I now understand that there is a time and place for partisanship, and we should not let it dominate our lives. We can accomplish so much more when we are willing to really listen to each other’s views and ideas, and work together to solve the many problems facing us.
While working with you, I have learned how very important it is to be friendly. It is really such an easy thing to do; a friendly “Hello,”  “How you doin?”, “Good to see you” or, when leaving, “Adios.” This takes so little effort, and the rewards are great. By greeting those around you with a friendly gesture and a smile you can make a huge difference in someone’s day.
Finally, one of the most important lessons I have learned from you is to never sell yourself short. So many times I have seen a student struggle, whether it was in the classroom, or on the athletic fields. Sometimes it was an exam, sometimes it was just trying to fit in. Whenever I worried that student couldn’t make it, I discovered I was wrong. It might require a little extra help from a caring coach, it might mean someone had to work harder after school, but, time and time again, I have seen students succeed here when few others thought they could. We should never underestimate our abilities.
In closing, I would like to share something written a few years ago, not by that entertainer most of you associate me with, but by a former president. To a group of graduates just like you, he said, “In my opinion, there has been too much talk about the Common Man. We are in danger of developing a cult of the Common Man, which means a cult of mediocrity. But there is at least one hopeful sign; I have never been able to find out who this Common Man is. In fact, most Americans will get mad if you try calling them common. This is hopeful because it shows that most people are holding fast to an essential fact in American life. We believe in equal opportunity for all, but we know that this includes the opportunity to rise to leadership — in other words, to be uncommon. Let us remember that the great human advances have not been brought about by mediocre men and women. They were brought about by distinctly uncommon people with vital sparks of leadership. I have never met a father and mother who did not want their children to grow up to be uncommon men and women. May it always be so. For the future of America rests not in mediocrity, but in the constant renewal of leadership in every phase of our national life.”
To the Class of 2012, my wish for all of you is to become “The Uncommon Graduate.”
On behalf of the teachers and staff of Decatur High School, I want to tell you how proud we are of all your accomplishments. I hope you believe that “In the heart of Old Decatur,” you have a second home and will always be welcome. I want to especially thank your parents. They have made our jobs as teachers and administrators much easier. Without their continued support, this outstanding school could disappear almost as quickly as the Titanic. And although we may not have always communicated it clearly, your teachers, administrators and I truly love you in a way that may not be clear at this moment, but will become more evident as you continue on life’s journey. May God continue to bless you and your families, the City of Decatur, the Great State of Georgia, and the United States of America. Thank you.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

Rock Hill School District Teacher Response to IPADS

Below are a selection of the responses provided by 247 teachers of the Rock Hill School District. I'm not sure what the results tell you. Should there be a concern that only 25% responded? Was there equal representation from across the district to give some statistical significant's? Would you go to the bank with this?

Teacher Responses to iPad Survey
How can we garner support from teachers?

  • Integrate them into daily use like attendance, e-mail, etc.
  • Help us find relevant apps
  • Provide information about the vision and plan
  • Subject and grade level specific professional development
  • Show how the device can enhance teaching and learning
  • Extensive professional development training/play

How can we garner support from students?

  • No problem – they love it!
  • Provide access for everyone
  • Instill pride of being on cutting edge

How can we garner support from parents?

  • Communicate – host parent nights – parent seminars
  • Show the benefits
  • Show the data for how it improves achievement
  • Address safety training
  • Make it affordable – offer incentives or discounts
  • Rent-to-own, or payment plans would help

How can we garner support from the community?

  • Make it the message of how they benefit students
  • Explain future jobs effect
  • Show how we save money
  • Have students do the talking – show student work
  • Ask for ways for students to “earn” an iPad

What types of professional development do we need for teachers?

  • Foundations 
  • How to integrate into meaningful instruction
  • Teachers teaching teachers
  • Ongoing and informal
  • Integrated with Common Core
  • Different levels (basic, intermediate, advanced)

What type of professional development do we need for parents?

  • Basic skills – iParents 101
  • How to take care of it
  • How to learn on it
  • Monitor use – safety

How can we raise money to help families who may not be able to purchase an iPad for their children?

  • Don’t just give it – students should have to earn it
  • Must demonstrate need
  • Business donations
  • Solicit help from PTO, Boosters, and SICs
  • Write grants

What kind of technical support is needed? Who can provide this support?

  • Direct support from Apple
  • Hotline, Help Desk, Frequently Asked Questions, How To Manual
  • Partner with local businesses willing to volunteer
  • District Office Technology Team
  • Media Specialist at each school
  • Teacher professional development
  • School-based teacher or assistant
  • Partner with York Technical College
  • Student interns

What is your greatest concern?

  • Theft, damage, loss of the iPads
  • Widening the digital divide
  • Monitoring and supervision of inappropriate use
  • Cost of apps and iTunes
  • Not fair to pass on cost to parents
  • Students who don’t have internet access at home
  • Should be phased in
  • Time for professional development
What excites you most about this process?

  • Learning anytime anywhere
  • 21st Century learners
  • Going paperless
  • Real world learning – preparing for global society
  • Student engagement increases
  • Ability to differentiate lessons
  • Current information and research possibilities
  • No textbooks

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