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Computers, Compassion and Engagement Reach Kids, Superintendent Says

Bowling Green Daily News

Computers, Compassion and Engagement Reach Kids, Superintendent SaysThe scene is kids sprawled out on the classroom floor or in the hallways, clicking the keys on their MacBook computers while they compare notes with one another. There's a "hum" of productivity in the classroom. The teacher is in the classroom, sometimes on the floor beside them, answering questions as the students learn through teaching one another. The 4,400 MacBooks in use cost about $1.25 per child each day school is in session, or about $200 a day.

At Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina, that's the public school learning environment and Mark A. Edwards, national Superintendent of the Year for 2013, said Thursday morning that it works.

Edwards spoke at the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents 2013 Summer Institute at the Sloan Convention Center. The event concludes today. He said while his district of about 6,000 students ranks near the bottom of school funding in North Carolina, it ranks near the top in student achievement. Mooresville is about a 30-minute drive north of Charlotte, a working class community where 40 percent of the students receive free lunch and 20 percent more students who qualify for it don't take it because the parents don't want it. Mooresville is off the main routes. "You don't get there by accident," Edwards said.

President Barack Obama recently visited the school district, and it has been featured in educational and mainstream publications by PBS and The New York Times as the new face of public education. Mooresville is the home of NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Edwards said sometimes the biggest social question a resident faces is, "Who's your driver?"

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In the race to educate kids, Mooresville is gaining notoriety. "I'm embarrassed by it, but it is good for public education," Edwards said.

Sam Evans, dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences at Western Kentucky University, said Thursday during a meeting break that what Edwards is using in the Mooresville classrooms -- nontraditional teaching methods tied to technology -- is what WKU is teaching future teachers.

Edwards has only a 10-person central office staff and problems that many public schools face -- inattentive, unmotivated kids who challenge authority, limited resources and about 700 staff, certified and non certified, who are working diligently another year without a pay raise. Additionally, he has battled funding cuts from the state. The district dropped from second in the North Carolina to third in student attendance because of incidences of teen-age pregnancy and incarceration, he said.

One publication touted Mooresville as the "best district in America." Edwards said there many "best districts in America," and many of them are in Kentucky. He said, yes, there has been a focus on technology and new learning methods, but the real key to Mooresville's success has been a change in the culture. During the writing of his recent book, "Every Child, Every Day," Edwards told the superintendents that his editors didn't want him to mention "love" as one of his strategies, but he did anyway because that's what he believes: kids need tough love, and staff members need to be honored and appreciated daily.

Bowling Green Independent School District Superintendent Joe Tinius said the approach to engage each student with a positive message from the teachers has been used in the BGISD for the past six years. "We made a decision to go that route," he said during a break in the conference.

Edwards also said amid the MacBooks and the smartboards, the students need to find their path in life. The technology, for example, can link them to more scholarship opportunities once they establish the grades. At Mooresville High School, there has been a 300 percent increase in scholarships accepted, from $935,370 in 2006 to $2,665,583 in 2012. The number of scholarships offered in 2012 is closer to $6 million, Edwards said.

-- Chuck Mason covers education for the Daily News. Follow him on Twitter.com/bgdnschools or at bgdailynews.com.