Liberty County School System classrooms will become more personal next school year.
“We basically, as an educator, we teach to the norm, right down the middle,” Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee said during a community forum Thursday at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center.
That is going to change next year, as the district will focus on “personalized learning,” a concept that is gaining traction across the nation as technology allows schools to tailor instruction based on students’ individual strengths and weaknesses.
Rather than teach to the middle of the class, instructors will work to meet students where they are, including high achievers, students whose native language is not English and those “who have other challenges as well,” Lee said.
“If you can engage them in the learning process and help them to be successful on a daily basis, they’re more inclined to acquiesce to what it is you’re asking of them,” she said. “And they’re more inclined to meet those goals that you set for them.”
A school district team will visit Henry County Schools in the Atlanta metro area next week. Lee said the Henry and Fulton county districts have embraced personalized learning, and the Liberty County personnel will look for ways to implement the concept here.
“It’s not all about, ‘What does the curriculum say we have to teach?’” Lee said. “But we also look at, ‘What in this curriculum is of interest to the student? What is it that is going to match up with their learning styles and modalities?’”
Parents and others who go into a classroom next year might be surprised by what they see, the superintendent said.
“Now, this is going to be a great mind shift in Liberty County. You’re going to go into the classroom, and some of them are going to look like, ‘Oh man, this is chaotic,’ when in fact, it’s going to be organized chaos,” she said. “We’re not going to make them sit in these cemetery rows anymore. … We’re going to just let our hair down and meet our kids where they are and put them in situations where they feel good, feel comfortable.”
The community forum also touched on several other topics. While district officials, by law, cannot publicly advocate for the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, a short video was shown to highlight what the current 1 percent sales tax has paid for in the school system.
Funds helped with the construction of the Liberty County Career Academy, purchase of the Liberty County Performing Arts Center, new instruments for bands at Bradwell Institute and Liberty County High School, security upgrades at schools, new school buses, new painting, floor replacements, new playground equipment and renovations of restrooms, according to the video, which can be seen at www.liberty.k12.ga.us/esplost.
Lee said renovations are about to begin at Button Gwinnett Elementary School, including enclosing the media center. She added that the tracks at Bradwell and LCHS will be replaced. This will allow the schools to host regional track meets, she said.
The renewal of ESPLOST is on the May 24 general primary ballot. The current ESPLOST will expire June 30, 2017.
ESPLOST also paid for iPads for students. Every district student in grades four through 12 has an iPad. In kindergarten through third grade, there are at least 10 iPads per classroom, and at least five iPads per prekindergarten classroom, said Dr. Patti Crane, the school system’s chief information officer.
This is the second year of the iPad initiative, which the district calls the Liberty Learning Experience. This year, the system has been working to ensure that students have more access to digital content and that the iPads are used as a key part of the classroom instruction.
“We continue to further the teacher training on embedding the technology into the curriculum, into the content area, so that it’s not seen as, ‘Get your iPad out, let’s play a game,’” Crane said. “It actually is immersed into the curriculum for all content areas.”
The district also has equipped the iPads with protective cases and changed to a repair company with a faster return time than it had last year.
Crane also talked about an “on demand” system called WLCS, which will allow parents, students and teachers to communicate and access content on a web portal. It will also allow the district or schools to live-stream events, such as athletic contests or school concerts, as well as provide online instructional video and professional development sessions, which would let teachers stay in their classrooms instead of traveling to the district office in Hinesville.
Another web-based initiative called iDashboard is already underway, and Crane said it should be “fully functional” by Friday. That system, which can be seen here, allows the district to post data such as the percentage of teachers who have proper certification, school and district test results and safety information.
Charter system update
Susan Avant, the school system’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, highlighted several initiatives the district has undertaken since becoming a “charter system” last year.
Last year, all districts in Georgia were required to choose from among three options, two of which grant them waivers from some state requirements in exchange for meeting state-mandated performance targets.
Those options were charter system and strategic waivers. The third, “status quo,” does not grant school districts waivers.
Avant said Liberty has worked to increase emphasis on fine and performing arts, provide flexible scheduling (by which students can receive more instruction on areas in which they are struggling) and allow retired educators to work part-time to provide extra help to students who need it.
She also highlighted the 3-D labs at every Liberty County public school, growth in dual enrollment (which allows high school students to take courses at Savannah Technical College or Armstrong State University), Breakfast in the Classroom and an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
One other highlight of this school year is a digital library called myON. The school system purchased the library in October, giving students access to more than 10,000 books through their district-issued iPads.
Avant said Liberty County students this year have finished 156,548 books and spent 40,523 hours reading.