If we're not learning, we shouldn't be going

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If we're not learning, we shouldn't be going

Published Wednesday, November 7, 2012   |  510 Words  |  

The reason to spend public money sending Beaufort County school district employees to conferences is to bring back new information to help educate children here.

Former superintendent Valerie Truesdale's trip to Boston just a day before she left the district was a waste of money, even if it only cost us the relatively small sum of $1,200.

The one-day conference, held Sept. 27 and presented by the publication Education Week, focused on the use of technology to boost student learning.

Truesdale said she discussed at a dinner she attended the district's virtual summer school, the new iPad initiative and the district's investment in laptops for teachers among other things.

Touting technology programs in our district is no reason to go. In fact, it's a bad reason to go. To date, our test scores and district report cards have not reached the point where we should say, "Do as we do."

The iPad program is so new, about the only thing Truesdale could have said with certainty is that we bought iPads for our students.

Truesdale, who now works for the Charlotte-Mecklenberg (N.C.) School District as chief information officer for technology, should have followed the lead of Cory Tressler, the former director of virtual learning at the local district. Tressler also registered for the conference and left his job Sept. 28, the same day as Truesdale. But Tressler decided not to go the conference after he chose to leave the district.

"I was going to learn and bring back information for the district," he said. "That's primarily why I didn't go."

School district officials would do well to stop looking for opportunities to "showcase" their work, and instead look for ways to improve it.

When the Beaufort County School District began "Learning with Laptops" in 1996, school officials promised that the program would bring national, if not international, recognition to the county's schools .

In 1998, then superintendent Herman Gaither traveled to Great Britain, on software vendor Microsoft's dime, to tout the district's laptops program and its funding mechanism, the Schoolbook Foundation.

Gaither was holding up the foundation as a way to finance such a program even as the foundation struggled financially. That school year, the foundation had difficulty coming up with enough money to subsidize all the students who wanted to participate in the program and asked the school district to guarantee $1.6 million in financing. A four-year study later could not link academic achievement directly to the laptops. By 2003, when the sixth-graders who first got laptops prepared to graduate, the program had all but vanished.

Learning with Laptops was proof that saying it doesn't make it so.

This isn't to say the district shouldn't look for and try innovative ways to reach and teach our children.

But it is why the district should treat conferences, such as the one in Boston, as learning opportunities, not opportunities to make a name for the district or individuals.