BACK OFFICE BUSINESS: Technology Re-Energizes Rural District

A laptop, tablet and cell phone are linked in the cloud above a map of blue Earth

A national technology program offers Polk County (TN) Schools in southeast Tennessee new tools and new approaches. Polk County Schools is one of the few rural systems in the US to be named a Verizon Innovative Learning School. The designation comes with 500 iPads, five gigabytes of data per month for each student and teacher in the sixth through eighth grades, and professional development support for teachers. The program is focused on academic achievement, technology proficiency for both students and teachers, student engagement, and exposing students to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. Two-thirds of the county is in the Cherokee National Forest, which has a big impact on development patterns and school revenue. “We don’t get opportunities like this often, so we’re trying to get the most from it,” says Ryan Goodman, the district’s director of innovation. “It’s really re-energizing our district.” In addition to providing hardware, Verizon is sending edtech experts from Digital Promise to Polk County three times a year to conduct professional development for teachers. Teachers complete 12 technology-integration modules throughout the year. The district also has model teachers who help lead at the middle school. In addition, Polk has established student tech teams to provide tech assistance—a strategy that not only provides support but also deepens student leadership skills.