North Carolina district CTO oversees 'digital conversion' in schools

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Scott Smith is one of growing number of school chief technology officers who are helping to usher in the future for schools like the Mooresville Graded School District.

The district, about 20 miles north of Charlotte, North Carolina, with Smith’s help, has led the way for one-to-one programs to blossom.

The model district — which received a visit from President Barack Obama — has been slowly revamping its curriculum and putting iPads and MacBook Airs in the hands of every student for the past eight years, since Smith came on board. This year, for the first time, all 6,100 students in grades K-12 have a device, Smith said proudly.

“We started in high school and worked our way backwards, but it really comes down to a personalized learning experience for every student,” Smith said in an interview. “It’s been very focused and purposeful in terms of why we have done what we have done.”

Students in kindergarten and first grade, since they are more tactile learners, have iPads, while every student in grades 2-12 have 11-inch MacBook Air laptops. Older students are allowed to take the devices home. The devices are leased for three years, and cost about $250 per student annually.

Smith said an important difference between the two devices is that “the iPad is a great consumption device, but a laptop is a great creation device with a keyboard and added functionality.”

The technology has also eliminated another, more expensive hassle: textbooks.

The district has all but done away with books, except for Advanced Placement classes that still require certain texts. Smith said teachers subscribe to a mix of about 40 different online resources, some paid and some free, from companies like Discovery Education, icurio and BrainPOP. The paid subscriptions cost roughly $75 per student, significantly less than what textbooks usually cost.

“Students get immediate feedback,” Smith said. “They know exactly how they’re doing, and teachers know how they’re doing. We use data on a daily basis, and it’s really changed and made a huge difference in how we do instruction.”

There are instructional technology facilitators in every school to help teachers and students troubleshoot problems, as well as library media coordinators.

The district, which Smith calls “average,” has gotten recognition for its extraordinary work — the New York Times ran an article on its tech programs about four years ago, and Obama announced his ConnectED initiative to get 99 percent of students connected to high-speed broadband at Mooresville Middle School in 2013.

“We have been a pioneer,” Smith acknowledged.

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com, or follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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