K-64 brings education, business, and government together to connect people of all ages with the skills needed to fill jobs and build careers in Catawba County.

John Bailey | Hickory Daily Record

HICKORY – The newly formed K-64 Board approved $118,505 during Thursday’s meeting to be used by Hickory Public Schools, Newton-Conover City Schools and Catawba County Schools for teachers’ summer technology training.

The board also elected Michael Ellwanger, director of Global Cable Product Development, as the chair for the new Technology Task Force.

The first vote addressed one of K-64’s initial objectives – creating tech-savvy educators with money that covers the cost of training and includes stipends for teachers and some hardware.

The K-64 (kindergarten to age 64) plan is an educational and economic development initiative to prepare all students to be college and career ready in a global economy and support the local workforce and economic growth.

Catawba County Schools Chief Technology Officer Marty Sharpe said this was an alignment initiative and an “unbelievable opportunity for the school systems.”

“We wanted to make sure we weren’t doing this as three different presentations, but as one combined,” Sharpe said.

Together, they presented their plans for funding professional development for the summer.

Sharpe discussed the individual strategic plans for the districts and state mandated digital learning competencies.

“The state actually passed legislation mandating all school systems begin digital learning competencies with all teachers and administrators, beginning in August,” Sharpe said. “We also have a state digital plan that we rely on and all three school systems look at this plan and try to align it to where we’re going.”

Newton-Conover City Schools Public Information Officer Jamie Frye explained how the school systems will be able to add to a K-64 investment in technology by way of the state’s coding and mobile application grant program for middle and high school students.

The grant will be used to award competitive programs up to $400,000 each year. Grants shall be used to purchase equipment, digital materials and teacher training. All three schools systems intend on applying.

“It will help build programs in our schools for teachers to basically teach students how to code and build mobile applications,” Frye said. “That’s a need we see in our workforce at a state level.”

For this summer, each local school district will focus on a specific training area related to technology for teachers. Catawba County Schools will offer a program called Models of Excellence. Participants in this workshop will be leaders in their school and part of their Digital Teaching and Learning task force, according to documents presented to the K-64 board.

Hickory Public Schools is doing Frameworks for Technology Integration designed to guide educators through the process of selecting digital resources for students that intersect with specific curricular standards and individual instructional practices.

Newton-Conover City Schools plans to offer a personalized learning program that will train teachers on how to empower students to lead their learning process, track their own performance data and make decisions on what pathway they pursue to achieve content mastery.

All three districts have agreed to open all digital learning/technology summer training opportunities as an inter-district collaborative effort. Any staff member from each district will be free to attend any of these related sessions.

“We’re looking at this as a whole picture, not just as individualized districts,” Newton-Conover City Schools Superintendent David Stegall told the board.

“We specialized so we’re not duplicating our efforts by doing so we can provide specific experts for training, and it allows staffs from other school districts to come where they might not have it available in their own district.”

Terri Hall, Hickory Public Schools instructional technology specialist, said their summer training addresses the creation of the new K-second grade Southwest Primary School as well.

Her system requested funding to purchase 30 iPad Pros for teachers to match the iPads K-2nd grade students use.

K-64 board member Sherry Butler questioned the purchase of iPads versus less expensive Chromebooks. She also asked about the option of leasing devices as a cost savings measure. She went on to recommend funding everything in the original proposal except the purchase of the iPad Pros.

“K-2 students really need the touch device, a device they can touch. They don’t know how to type yet. They don’t know that environment,” Hall said. “For teachers to facilitate instruction with a touch device they need to have their own.”

Hall countered Butler’s recommendation by proposing the board consider the purchase of an iPad closer to the price of a Chromebook.

“We already have the structure in place for the iPads at (Southwest) so it’s not that we have to have the iPad Pro, but I would ask you to consider an iPad environment.”

The board agreed to the adjusted proposal. The school systems plan on beginning their summer training in July.

For more information, call Catawba Valley Community College President Garrett Hinshaw at 828-327-7000.