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BOE learns about eCLASS at North Gwinnett Middle

SUGAR HILL — Cellphones, tablets, computers, netbooks, e-readers and laptops were front and center for members of the Gwinnett County Board of Education on Thursday.

During a tour of North Gwinnett Middle’s eCLASS curriculum and classrooms, BOE members learned more about the district-wide initiative that stands for Content, Learning, Assessment and Support System. The North Gwinnett cluster was one of five that Gwinnett County Public Schools tabbed as “pilot clusters” during the initial rollout.

North Gwinnett Middle Principal Wanda Law said administrators and teachers are still adjusting to eCLASS and its companion program called “Bring Your Own Device.”

“It’s probably a little slower than I would like, but I know it takes time,” Law said. “We’re still trying to figure out what it is (students) want to bring. We want them to have that experience with technology.”

CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, board members and senior district staffers toured several classrooms and listened to orchestra students record a song and text answers about intonation accuracy.

“You couldn’t help but see a high level of engagement,” Wilbanks said.

They also saw social studies students use QR codes to learn about the antebellum era using web sites and video.

“You combine technology and research together,” eighth-grader Prashasti Borikar said. “Not everybody gets to do it, so it’s a privilege.”

Eighth-grader Ashley Mott put it simply, “It’s better than textbooks and podiums.”

Law added that the transition falls at least partially with adults like her who didn’t use a computer until she was in high school.

“It’s definitely a different day,” she said.

Challenges remain in having enough technology for each student, and securing grants that close the gap for students who can’t bring their own devices. Part of the issue with inventory is having teachers agree about what’s most important. Math teachers prefer tablets, Law said, while language arts teachers prefer netbooks that make it easier to type.

Teacher evaluation program

Associate Superintendent Frances Davis outlined the district’s new teacher evaluation program at an afternoon workshop session with the BOE.

Davis said the district wants to align the way it selects people who join the group of about 11,900 teachers to fit 10 performance standards and recognize exemplary attendance by teachers. Teacher attendance this year is at 95.8 percent versus 94.4 last year.

During the fall, Davis said teachers had two unscheduled classroom observations for at least 10 minutes each, and one formal observation. By the end of the calendar year, teachers discuss progress with administrators.

“We’re right where we need to be for this process to conclude on May 1,” Davis said.

Davis also reported that the average teacher in Gwinnett has 15 years experience and a master’s degree. They are 42 years old and make $55,795. Staff attrition in Gwinnett is 9.5 percent, compared to 12.2 statewide.

Discipline report

School board members also heard a report that said 249 students were reported for major rule violations during the first quarter, which is from Aug. 1 through Oct. 31. The report coverage a range of violations, from indecency (17 violations) to weapons (26), to an abuse or threat on a school employee (32) and physical abuse of a non-employee (42).

There have been 3,646 out-of-school suspensions, and ninth-graders have more than double any other grade with 1,233 such suspensions. Ninth-graders also led in in-school suspensions with 3,099 of the 8,786 district wide.