Piedmont City Schools Re-Imagines the Future for Rural Students

Blog Series, Community, Leadership, Learning, Mission-Driven Work, PreK-12, Smart Schools

As part of the League of Innovative Schools, Piedmont City Schools is not new to technology in the classroom. This small, rural district of about 1,200 students is looking to reimagine the future for their kids and sees the value in moving to a more personalized and competency-based environment that will help prepare their students for a brighter tomorrow. Matt Akin, Superintendent, states “we have already built the foundation, we are ready to take it to the next level with the support of the [NGLC] planning grant.”

With 70% of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, Matt knew that in order to make technology relative, the students needed to be able to access the internet. Four years ago, the district started a 1:1 program for all three schools, using Macbooks. But, without internet access outside of school, the 1:1 program would not truly reach it’s full potential. Piedmont decided to use an E-Rate grant to provide a unique solution. They hired the vendors necessary to build a wireless network for the entire city of 5,000 residents. Because students are very transient throughout the city- sometimes home, sometimes at their grandparents, with a neighbor, at the library, etc. this solution was a real game changer for the entire community. The solution proved to be so valuable that the city has continued to support the idea, even after the initial grant money was phased out.

What is the goal? For Piedmont City Schools, the goal is actually not to raise test scores- those have always been good. What motivates the dedicated school staff to keep working so hard for change and development is the need to give their kids a chance. The city has been losing businesses and work opportunities for its residents. Now, there is and must be a desire to reimagine the future of their students.

Matt acknowledges he is lucky to be Superintendent in a district where teachers and the community are so supportive. He knows that blended learning isn’t easy, which is why it was important to build pilots that allowed teachers to showcase success before moving the model across the whole district. Now that they have a strong foundation, the district will look to build up competency-based learning and help them to start delivering instruction differently so that students progress not according to time spent on subject, but according to when they master concepts.

How to get there. Although Piedmont schools have been blended for four years, they realize it’s an evolutionary process. With this NGLC planning grant, it makes sense to start in the middle school as they work towards their competency-based model. There, the teachers will run pilots and take pieces of their success and push it up to the high school or down to the elementary school. The grant will help look closer at rotation models, especially inside the classroom and block-time, where, for example, 7th and 8th graders will work together while the teachers give specific and individualized support as needed. Robotics has also been added to the schedule, giving students access to skills that will help them thrive in this 21st century workforce. Health science and computer programming will be added next year.

More for teachers. Teacher empowerment has worked towards furthering student achievement for Piedmont City Schools and it is something they plan to continue. Last year, with the Teacher Wallet Grant, every teacher received 200 dollars per student to spend at their own discretion, with a limit at 6K per class. Teachers have their choice of tech tools to purchase and can decide what works best for their students. Teachers need time to plan how to implement technology in order to personalize the learning for the students that they know best. No one else can figure it out for them. At Piedmont Middle School teachers get that time- every Monday teachers have duty free lunch so they have time to plan and look at data together to make sure kids are going to the right rotations and getting the individual support they need.

There are many stories out there about “big city” school districts out there working to make “big” changes for kids. Piedmont City School District is not a big city story but instead proves that all of our kids deserve better conditions for learning and to be fully prepared to enter this 21st century world, regardless if they live in the city or in a “harder to reach” rural area. In the Piedmont City School District, Matt Akin and his dedicated staff refuse to be satisfied with the status quo for their students and will continue to push until they’ve created the best learning experience for every one of their students.

 Educause is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

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