Dance visits Rodgers Forge Elementary on tour of 'Lighthouse' schools

Rodgers Forge Elementary was the final stop Friday on Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance's tour of Baltimore County's "Lighthouse" schools, which will pilot the school system's digital conversion next school year.

"I'm more excited than ever," Dance said after the event. "I have seen some excitement (at the schools) with current things they have going on with technology, but everyone has a plan for how they're going to implement even more."

Dance came to Rodgers Forge from Halstead Academy, with stops earlier Friday at Lansdowne Elementary, Edmondson Heights Elementary in Woodlawn, Church Lane Elementary in Randallstown, Fort Garrison Elementary in Pikesville, Joppa View Elementary in White Marsh, and Chase Elementary and Hawthorne Elementary in Middle River.

The 10th Lighthouse school, Mays Chapel Elementary in Timonium, will open in August 2014.

BCPS' digital conversion, known as Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT), will be implemented at the pilot schools for grades one through three in those 10 schools next year. The students in those grades will each be issued individual mobile learning devices for use with a new digital curriculum, although what the device is has not yet been announced. The conversion will be fully implemented by the 2017-18 school year, according to BCPS officials.

On his visit to Rodgers Forge, Dance met in the main office with students who painted the office door with a large lighthouse. The school's staff wore yellow RFES Lighthouse shirts, and the students also dressed in yellow for the occasion. Dance then joined a group of students from kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, all of whom will be piloting the STAT initiative, as well as the students responsible for the school's morning video announcements in the media center, where they put on a brief broadcast for the entire school.

Dance, standing in front of a green screen and surrounded by students in yellow, told the students of his excitement for their selection as a Lighthouse school. He also laid out the school system's logic for the digital conversion in a simpler way than he might to BCPS staff.

"You guys are already powered up when you get to school, so why power down?" Dance said on the broadcast. The superintendent then gave the school a STAT banner to hang and told them he'd be back to check on their progress next year.

In an interview after the event, Dance touted the planning that has gone on the county and school level in advance of the pilot program. He said at a recent Board of Education meeting that 18 months of planning had gone into BCPS' conversion so far — and the planning would be what made their rollout different than high-profile failures in technology conversions across the country.

"I don't think we could have come out and talked about this without planning," Dance said. "There are school systems across the country that just want to do it because of the device. That's not our purpose. Our purpose is — how do we transform our classrooms through the devices? We spent a lot of time with our curriculum, we spent a lot of time getting people professional development —that 18 months of planning is starting to pay off."

At Rodgers Forge, principal Missy Fanshaw said the school is already instituting some of the cultural changes, such as changing classroom alignments and individualized learning, which are necessary for the pilot program.

"The device is the vehicle, but there's also that whole frame of mind of what teaching looks like," Fanshaw said.

Rodgers Forge was one of five Lighthouse schools selected through an application process — the other five were picked by BCPS in advance — and Fanshaw said the staff was ready to embrace the additional technology.

"The teachers that were the least tech-savvy were the ones that spoke out the most, about how much they had grown technology-wise in the year since we got our Promethean (smart) boards," Fanshaw said. "We were ready for it, the kids are ready for it, and we can do this."

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