Iredell-Statesville Schools officials plan to continue initiatives started with the nearly $20 million Race to The Top District grant that funds the IMPACT program, despite the grant’s expiration at the end of this year.
IMPACT, or Innovative Methods for Personalizing Academics Complemented by Technology, was implemented in Iredell-Statesville middle and high schools in 2012. The grant expires Dec. 27.
The Race to The Top District grant funded MacBook Air laptops and support for each student. Prior to IMPACT, teachers had to check out mobile carts and use the school computer lab, said David Blattner, I-SS chief technology officer and executive director of media and virtual learning.
Now every teacher and student has technology constantly available in the classrooms, he said.
That technology has shifted the focus, where teachers serve as facilitators and have moved away from the more traditional role of lecture-based teaching, said Phillip Hardin, executive director of IMPACT.
“We’ve radically changed our lesson plans in order to keep up with the times and our 21st century learners,” Brawley Middle School teacher Rhonda Lee said during a February Committee of the Whole meeting. “These adjustments have been necessary to effectively educate our students today.”
Developing essential skills
IMPACT includes blended learning and one-to-one learning initiatives in classrooms. The one-to-one program allows students to work at their own pace through individualized learning on digital and online applications with the laptops.
“Laptops enable students to find the learning medium that works best for them,” said Denise Bardsley, a mother of I-SS middle school and high school children. “My eighth- and ninth-graders are very visual learners who benefit from being able to put on their headphones and watch a video clip about a historical event or a math concept. To have that choice benefits students, teachers and parents.”
Bardsley said she believes digital learning helps students develop critical thinking skills through researching different opinions on the Internet.
“Having these sorts of skills will be essential for the future and is already what sets them apart from their peers across the country,” Bardsley said.
More money needed for tech
During the February Committee of the Whole meeting, the third-party assessment company called The Evaluation Group shared that during the 2014-2015 school year, there was a slight decrease in students scoring “proficient” on End-of-Grade exams and a slight decrease in the number of what the state considers highly effective teachers and principals in I-SS.
One former school board member believes that the IMPACT technology should not dominate the classroom.
“Laptops, or any technology device, should never trump the requirement for a highly qualified classroom teacher,” said Bryan Shoemaker, former Iredell-Statesville Board of Education member.
Technology is a large portion of the IMPACT program cost.
The cost of the devices was about $11.4 million, which included professional development through Apple, said Melissa Wike, chief financial officer of Iredell-Statesville Schools.
An initial $5.4 million allotted by the grant for devices didn’t cover the cost of laptops needed, so an amendment was approved to move $300,411.56 from the grant’s personnel budget and $118,275.05 from grant’s fringe benefits to increase the amount for devices to $5.8 million, said Wike.
That left $5.6 million to be covered by the school system’s local and capital outlay funds.
Shoemaker believes those capital funds should be used for their original purpose: to repair and renovate schools.
“It also seems as if sometimes too much emphasis is placed on the importance of a brand name computer when teachers and school staff have not had the 2 percent supplement restored that was cut in 2009,” he said.
The grant supplements only four years of the program and after it expires the school will not have access to any remaining funds. I-SS has considered applying for an extension on the grant, Wike said. An extension will allow the school to access the remaining $5.1 million to continue using IMPACT in classrooms.
At the March Committee of the Whole Meeting, system officials will discuss ways to continue IMPACT following expiration of the grant.
“You can’t put a price on student success,” Hardin said. “We want to continue with the IMPACT program and we are already in the process of creating a sustainability plan for it.”
By the numbers
Race to The Top District Grant total
Grant funds remaining as of Jan. 31
Payroll budget for grant personnel
Total price of laptops
Approximate number of laptops issued
Cost of each laptop
Cost for insurance on each laptop
Additional personnel hired with grant:
1 Accountability Coordinator
1 Blended Learning Coordinator
4 part-time Digital Lab Monitors
14 Blended Learning Coaches
1 Program director
Total: 25 personnel added