McMinn County high schools get tech

McMinn County Schools Chief Technology Officer Jill Pierce (right) speaks to the McMinn County Board of Education about the need for technology in high schools during the Board meeting on April 11 at the McMinn County Center for Educational Excellence.

The McMinn County Board of Education unanimously approved to fund computer technology to be used in grades nine through 12 in both of the system’s high schools.

During the Board of Education meeting on April 11, the body voted to approve $993,600 coming from the system’s fund balance to implement computer technology for use by students and teachers in high school classrooms. The motion was made by Board Member Donna Casteel and seconded by Vice-chair Quinten Howard.

The decision was made after McMinn County Schools Chief Technology Officer Jill Pierce spoke about the need for the system’s high school students, in particular, to have access to the technology. According to Pierce, since the Board approved the motion, implementation of the technology will begin immediately.

During the meeting, Pierce answered logistical questions from Board members and stated she believes that equipping high schoolers with the technology is “what’s best for kids.”

“We’re just at the point where 92% of our resources are online,” she said on the matter of both students and teachers needing access to devices.

Board Member Tony Allman requested more information from Pierce about the effectiveness of the technology, as well how the implementation of it is affecting test scores.For one, Pierce noted she believes pairing students with technology will prepare them with “soft skills” that will not only be beneficial, but highly necessary in the world post high school. Because of this necessity, she urged the Board to vote in favor of the motion.

“I feel very strongly personally and professionally that this is the right thing for our kids in McMinn County Schools,” Pierce stated. “This money is for kids. This is something we’ve worked very hard on and I’m not going to say that we won’t have bumps, but I do think that this is the right thing — and if I’m going down the wrong path, I’ll be the first one to admit it.”

Board Member Billy Manis questioned how the adoption of a new network will be able “to keep kids off of their cellphones” and if Pierce perceives that the implementation could pose disciplinary problems.

Pierce responded that teachers with specific device numbers will be the only ones physically able to connect to the network through cellphones and then called upon the principals of McMinn County and Central high schools to voice their opinions on the matter.

Central High School Principal Jeff Gilbert said “it will help in many ways.”

“A lot of issues we face is that students don’t have data, so the only way they can access it is to access our network — so if we pull that away, they don’t have that hotspot,” Gilbert said.

He also validated Pierce’s notion that the students will need computer skills “wherever they go” after high school and stated he believes it could improve online test scores.

“The manipulation of the device is critical,” he said. “How many questions are our students missing out on because they’re not used to that technology?”

According to Gilbert, he also believes the decision will aid teachers.

“It opens up a lot more possibilities for students and teachers from the standpoint of manipulation of soft skills and the disciplinary standpoint,” he said.

Likewise, McMinn County High School Principal David McDonald stated he believes it will benefit the schools because it will decrease the technology-related incidents requiring discipline. He also noted he believes it will enable teachers to access their materials better.

“I see it benefiting everybody,” McDonald said.

Before the decision was made, Pierce challenged Board members to think about how the world has changed since they entered the work force and act according to what she believes is the best decision for students.

“All of you look at the industries you’ve worked in and look at how it’s changed,” she said. “Not giving kids the soft skills to work with computers … I feel like we’re not doing right by our kids if we do have the money and we can do this.”

She added, “This is not a decision we go into lightly … these people behind me — they want to do what’s best for kids and that’s what we’re doing here.”

Email: ashley.copeland

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