Cutting Edge in Carolina

from Technology & Learning

Getting one-to-one to work isn't easy. Here's how one district was able to do it.

Kershaw County School District may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking about hotbeds of ed-tech innovation. It's 726 square miles, southeast of Charlotte in central South Carolina, and encompasses Camden City, its suburbs, and the rural Bethune-North Central area. Its student population is diverse and for the most part not wealthy: Camden High School is urban with 1,055 students, 45 percent of whom qualify for reduced lunch; Lugoff-Elgin High School is a large suburban high school with 1,482 students, with 31 percent reduced lunch; North Central High School is a small rural school (570 students), and the poorest of the three, with 62 percent of the students qualifying for the federal reduced lunch program.

As the district looked to upgrade its antiquated computer hardware, then-Superintendent Herbert Berg presented one-to-one as a solution. And thus the iCan Project began.

After determining it would need $8 million to fund the Kershaw County program for the three high schools, the district worked on finding ways to somehow make this a possibility. "We didn't have $2 million a year to put into technology," says Agnes Slayman, an assistant superintendent. But by standardizing their resources, school officials found they could save considerable money already allocated. The 20 schools in the district were operating independently in many ways. Because school administrators were able to save enough by unifying the district's technology usage and tapping into state funds, they were able to get close to their goal.

But some local taxpayer support would still be needed. Slayman says the key to garnering support was through informing the public of their goals and through what she calls the "big deal"—allowing county residents to buy technology at district costs.

Once local funding was secured, Kershaw contracted with Hewlett-Packard, signing four concurrent leases, each for about $2 million.

Taking the plunge

In January 2005, more than 800 9th grade students were issued Compaq notebooks (HP Nx5000). Teachers began to implement the lesson plans and training they learned, but there were issues that arose. Slayman says they were too altruistic, believing students would use the new tools solely for educational purposes.

Instant messaging soon became a distraction and was blocked. They provided teachers further help with classroom management when they installed Smart Technologies' SynchronEyes, software that allows teachers to view and control any student's laptop screen. Teachers can use this product to broadcast what's on their screen, or any student's screen, to the projector or directly to laptops.

Bandwidth also became an issue. When the second group of 9th graders was issued laptops in the fall of 2005, and teachers implemented more Web-based content, the district experienced slowdowns—there was even a point when the Internet just stopped working. After troubleshooting, they applied to the state's Budget and Control Board (which oversees the K–12 network) for additional bandwidth. Slayman discovered, though, "in South Carolina you can't just request additional bandwidth, you have to prove that you have problems," she says. So she sent an e-mail to everyone in the district to turn on his and her computers and connect to the Internet—causing the district Web site to crash. The district's 9MB Internet pipeline was soon increased to 100MBs, making it the largest Internet user in the county and one of the largest in the state.

Kershaw also experienced security problems after students hacked into the network, importing viruses and spyware. Officials there dealt with this problem by purchasing Total Traffic Control from Lightspeed Systems, which includes a filter and allows the district to better monitor network traffic.

Though it's faced challenges, Kershaw has also seen the results. Parents have become more involved since each teacher created an eChalk page where homework is posted. In fact, Web site hits increased from 30,787 the first year to 118,715 last year.

Students are given the opportunity to buy their laptop for $50 and leave ready for college or the 21st-century workplace.

Teaching the teachers

One essential aspect of implementing the one-to-one program was professional development. As part of the lease agreement, HP provided training through its partnership with Classroom Connect. Teachers were placed into three skill levels: high, medium, and not comfortable with technology. Training was tailored to these levels. During these sessions, teachers were issued laptops and digital cameras. The timing was planned so that teachers could apply the training to develop lesson plans during the two-week holiday break.

The group that was most adept with the new technology became mentors, and each school appointed an instructional technology specialist. These specialists are nowadays responsible for working with teachers on the integration of technology in the classroom by modeling lesson plans, finding resources and software, and providing staff development. Each school also has on-site technicians responsible for repairs. Some of these are district employees while others are employed by HP.

Each summer Classroom Connect staffers train teachers in four-day intensive workshops and conduct follow-up observations in the fall and spring. Worth Thompson, a principal at North Central High School, but until recently the district's director of professional development, says he found it took time for teachers to develop the proper skills to use the technology effectively. In the beginning, he says, teachers were using PowerPoint more, then multimedia, and later they were creating student group projects using high-tech tools. "What I ask of my teachers is to continually engage kids in the learning process," Thompson says, "and steadily try to improve."

Going forward

The 2007-'08 school year is the first that all high school students have a laptop. This year's graduating class will be the first to have had a laptop for all four years. These students are also being given the opportunity to buy their laptop for $50 and leave ready for college or the 21st-century workplace.

Dr. Slayman sees the iCan Project evolving. The technology will become smaller and the learning environment more flexible, she believes, with virtual learning breaking through barriers. "I hope this program is always a part of the vision for the district. It's exciting and ties the world of work with school."

Due to this success, the South Carolina Department of Education is looking to replicate the project throughout the state.


Classroom Connect

HP K-12 Education



Total Traffic Control

Interwrite Learning Products

Tom McHale is an educator in New Jersey.