By Arianne Aryanpur
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Ten years ago, the Loudoun County school system was "limping along" when it came to equipping students with the latest technology, said Assistant Superintendent Sharon D. Ackerman. So school officials pushed up their sleeves and drafted a plan to invest $22 million in technology improvements.
That plan, put before voters in a 1996 bond referendum, called for four computers in every classroom, one computer lab in all elementary schools and four to five computer labs in all middle and high schools. The goal was realized 18 months later, and ever since, Loudoun's public school system has been a leader in introducing the latest technology into classrooms, Ackerman said.
That record recently drew national recognition. Last month, Loudoun was one of three school districts in the nation to win the National School Boards Association's Technology Salute District award. In March, a group of national educators will visit Loudoun and the two other districts -- the Kyrene school district in Tempe, Ariz., and the Kokomo-Center Consolidated School Corp. in Kokomo, Ind. -- to see how those jurisdictions have used technology to enhance learning.
One advanced-technology tool that Loudoun uses is the SMART Board -- a touch-screen white board that eliminates the traditional chalk and erasers associated with teaching. A teacher writes on the screen with a finger, and whatever is written is stored electronically. Students can retrieve the information later by visiting the teacher's Web site.
Betty Korte, a math teacher at Stone Bridge High School, said the technology has made it easier to teach her ninth- and 10th-grade students.
"In math, where a lot of abstract concepts need to be understood, I can use a lot of the features to make it more real for the kids," Korte said. "I've been able to see the difference in their ability to understand these concepts before and after using the tool. In my mind, there's just no comparison."
Since adopting the technology last year, Loudoun has equipped each of its 45 schools with one or two SMART Boards. Stone Bridge has 12, one in every math classroom, and the Academy of Science at Dominion High School has one in every classroom. The school system aims to have a SMART Board in every classroom by 2010, said Preston Coppels, the system's director of instructional services.
"It's probably the most explosive technology in education," he said.
In citing Loudoun for the award, the national association noted the district's offering of online courses, which the county began providing five years ago. Through a partnership with George Mason University and the school systems in Stafford and Warren counties, students who otherwise can't complete classes -- because of long-term illness or lack of time in their schedules -- may register for online classes hosted by the GMU Web site.
The classes are self-taught, but teachers from Loudoun, Stafford and Warren counties answer questions via e-mail and chat. Coppels said that the pass rate for online courses has been exceptionally high and that students have given the service high marks.
The association also cited Loudoun's plans to establish next year a comprehensive online database of student information, including grades and standardized-test results, that will put information about each student at a teacher's fingertips.
Ackerman said the national recognition demonstrates Loudoun's ability to keep itself current with technological advances. And the school system will always have its eye on the next big thing, she said.
"I really think wireless is the future," she said. "The ability to roll the computers in . . . you don't eat up a whole room with a permanent computer lab, and every student can have them on their desks. We are looking in the future to go wireless."