Schools lifting ban on devices

pseligson@newsobserver.comSeptember 16, 2013 

Students will soon be able to bring their electronic devices to school.

At its meeting last week, the Johnston County Board of Education OK’d a policy change that will allow students to bring their laptops, tablets and other devices to school. Students will be able to connect these devices to a wireless network and go on the Internet.

But students won’t be able to bring their devices to school right away; the county will take its time rolling out the new rules, which will include guidelines that put the focus on learning, not just technology.

Superintendent Ed Croom commended the school system’s staff for preparing the wireless network for so much traffic. “We are poised to be able to offer a lot of things to children, and we owe it to them because textbook funds and those things have been depleted,” he said.

The policy, No. 3341, describes accessing the guest network as a privilege, not a right. Students can use the network only for legal purposes, so no downloading copyrighted material, and they aren’t allowed to “burden” the network, which could happen if someone tried to download a large file, for instance. Also, using the devices can’t “impede instructional time.”

The background information supporting the policy change noted that the county doesn’t have enough money to give each student an electronic device. Therefore, the board decided to allow students to bring their own device, which involved providing a way to connect to the Internet.

Johnston County schools have enough bandwidth for every student to log on at the same time without crashing the server, said Fran Riddick, assistant superintendent for instructional support and development. This allows students to take tests at the same time, she said.

PowerSchool problems

PowerSchool, the state’s new web-based system for managing student information, is giving the county trouble. Though implementing the new system across the state has worked well for most school systems, both Johnston and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools are having problems, Croom said.

“The states that have implemented this, it’s normally about a two-year process,” Croom said. “North Carolina has tried to pull this off in about eight months.”

He said the start of school has gone well for the most part. But the system can be slow, and county staff had trouble moving over data from the old system. High schools especially have had trouble scheduling classes, he said. And some transportation hiccups were likely caused by the system, which didn’t always link students to their correct address.

Turnover

The school district saw a higher turnover rate for teachers this year, said Robin Little, chief business officer. “It seemed like every time we would hire somebody, two more resignations would come in the door,” she said. “It was very frustrating to see that happening and to see us losing good people.”

Little said an improving economy was largely to blame. In 2005-06, the turnover rate was about 17 percent. That dipped to about 9 percent in 2010-11 but climbed to about 12 percent last year. “As the economy recovers, we will see more and more mobility,” Little said. “People aren’t afraid to become the low man on the totem pole anymore.”

But some of the turnover also comes from retirements, which are up 12 percent compared to last year, Little said. That trend will likely continue, but about half of teachers who retire come back to substitute, she said.

Little said she doesn’t yet know how many teachers the district lost this year because of action by state lawmakers, who lifted the cap on class size in most grades. On top of the smaller teacher allotment, the school district has grown by about 600 students, Little said. In the meantime, she said retirees are temporarily coming back to fill the gaps.

Other business

Patrick Jacobs, chief operations officer, told the board transportation has gone well and that few people have had problems. “In the five years that I’ve been in my role, this has been the smoothest this year as far as transportation is concerned,” he said.

The transportation staff has seen fewer scheduling problems than usual. “You’re always going to have kids that don’t have schedules, always have kids that don’t have a bus route,” he said. “In years past, I’ve probably been to two to three dozen bus stop concerns or issues. I think I’ve gone out on three.”

The board approved a policy change that makes an end-of-course test count for more of a student’s final grade. This brings the county back in line with the state, which temporarily suspended the policy last year. For the 2012-13 school year, the EOC test counted for 15 percent of the grade But that has now gone back to 25 percent.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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