In its first study session of 2019, the Tullahoma City Schools Board of Education discussed how best to navigate a 21st-century educational landscape as well as how to alter tuition to better market the district to out-of-district employees, during a study session on Tuesday evening.
According to Director of Schools John Carver, several scouting parties made site visits to other schools in the state who are embracing the use of technology in their classrooms in different ways to see how Tullahoma educators might better utilize their tools at home.
The teams visited Maury County Schools, where Carver used to work, as well as two school districts in the Memphis area, Collierville and Arlington school districts.
Representatives from each of the visits spoke to the board about their experiences about the visits, making note of what they saw that impressed them.
According to East Middle School Principal Charles Lawson, who visited both Memphis schools, he saw a more “deliberate” approach to using technology like laptops and tablets in the classroom, which he found intriguing.
When the schools were using their technological tools, he said, he was encouraged to see many teachers up and moving around their classrooms rather than staying stationary at their desks.
Overall, the members of the scouting teams said they were intrigued with how many teachers had active versus passive use of their technology, which Carver agreed was a key to how Tullahoma educators could evolve in the future.
There was some active engagement of technology in Tullahoma already, he said, but he wanted to see how the district could expand those “pockets of excellence” into a district-wide method.
“We have pockets of excellence going on throughout the district, but we’ve got to get to a point where that becomes the norm,” Carver said.
Apple versus Google
Another consideration of the technology question was whether or not the district was using the best technology available to it.
During the Memphis visits, some classrooms were utilizing Apple iPads, while others were using laptops.
Tullahoma currently utilizes Google Chromebooks in its classrooms, though it could potentially move to Apple products in the future.
Director of Technology Dianne Darlington explained to the board that Apple has made large strides in educational technology, citing certain management systems it provides schools in order to have classroom tablet usage.
Having everyone using the same device with the same operating system allowed for better administrative control of what students could access on their devices, as well as offering better security for all devices.
Renee Flowers, a High School 101 Transition teacher at Tullahoma High School, said she was impressed that there was no external distraction to students when they were using the iPads.
The teacher simply gave each student’s device a link to open, and “that’s all they could look at,” Flowers said.
Currently, Flowers added, internet distractions are a problem in the classroom, so having that more restricted device was a better educational environment for the students and the teacher both.
“One of the things that’s been difficult [here] is we’ve got students that are watching something on YouTube or they’re listening to some kind of music, and the amount of control the teacher had over what content was being viewed on the devices was pretty powerful,” she said.
Also, Flowers said, using the devices wasn’t labor intensive.
“It didn’t take a lot of effort” for the teacher, she said. “It was seamless. The technology in Arlington, I felt really enhanced the instruction. I felt like it was more active.”
Nothing, however, has been decided, Carver stressed repeatedly.
The district would not be “dumping” Google in favor of Apple tomorrow, he said, and the district was also not opposed to switching brands as well.
Whether or not the district would use different devices in the future would need to be studied extensively in the coming months, Carver said. He added that there would be a “technology plan” meeting soon in order to decide where the district needed to move.
Another topic of discussion on Tuesday night revolved around the district’s current out-of-district tuition policy.
Board members wanted to look at how they might alter the policy in order to better market it in order to allow for more TCS employees who live outside the city limits to bring their children with them to Tullahoma.
One idea floated to the group was the possibility of eliminating tuition for the children of TCS employees altogether, which might help recruit more educators to the area.
TCS employees who live outside of Tullahoma already enjoy a discounted tuition rate – half off – should they choose to matriculate their students within their employer’s district, according to Attendance Secretary Kay Scoggins, who manages the tuition roster for the district.
However, board members brought up at the November meeting whether or not there was something else the district could do in order to make it easier for its employees to bring their children with them to Tullahoma.
If the district could offer potential employees the option of having their children come to the school district with them free of charge, it might serve as another recruiting tool for the district.
However, offering tuition-free options to some families would mean giving up on some annual money from those who pay tuition.
There are currently 47 children of TCS employees that would potentially be impacted by the decision, according to Scoggins, but she also felt that many employees were already satisfied with the current arrangement.
“At this point, it being half, I think everyone is thrilled at that prospect,” she said.
Additionally, she said, the price of tuition as fluctuated so much over the years that the dollar amount impact to the overall budget could change rapidly.
The annual tuition rate per student has changed significantly since Scoggins has been working with the district.
“When I started it was $435 [per student], then it went to $825, then it went to $935 [and] then it went back to $900,” she said.
There is now a graduated tuition price, with the amount per student varying depending upon the age of the child. An elementary school student’s tuition is only $100 per child, according to Business Director Mike Roggli, and the highest amount is $6oo per student.
While there would be a financial impact to the district at first, the difference would largely be made up through state Basic Education Programming (BEP) funds.
BEP funds are based on average daily membership or attendance of each school district, so if the eliminated tuition brought more students to the district, the state would allocate more funds through BEP, which would replace any losses from tuition.
As it was a work session, nothing was decided by the board on Tuesday night. Instead, Carver suggested the board and staff continue to look into the subject and they would discuss it at a later meeting.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org