‘We live in a video world’

I attended a board meeting last week for Washington County Schools in Jonesborough, Tennessee. The topic of camera’s in the classroom was a topic discussed to some extent.

Cameras pulled from classrooms

Published in Herald & Tribune March 4, 2014 issue

After concerns surfaced last month about cameras being used as a new teachers’ evaluation tool in Washington County classrooms,  the process was stopped immediately, Director of Schools Ron Dykes told school board officials at a called meeting on Feb. 25.

“Teachers are under enough pressure,” Dykes said. “We wanted this to be a supported element that they would find helpful in assisting them.”

Dykes said he has no intention of re-implementing the cameras until he receives a mandate from the state or clearance of legalities that have been raised.

According to Dykes, most teachers have a formal evaluation two to four times a year, and the cameras were intitially considered a way to help in that evaluation.

“We have spent considerable amount of money in providing professional development, as well as administrator staff and curricular support personnel to work in the classroom and help our teachers improve instruction,” Dykes said.

The State of Tennessee, he said, notified the district that additional assistance would be provided in the form of cameras that takes video of the instruction during the evaluation. Dykes said the state department said it was the new wave of observations.

The funds for the cameras came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“This 30- or 50-minute video was going to be shared between evaluator and the teacher being evaluated,” he said. “These cameras were never intended to film a classroom. They were simply intended to film an observation of a teacher teaching.”

Dr. William Flanary, director of secondary education and career technical education, said he attended a single-day training session in November and brought back enough cameras for each school. The session was conducted by the manufacturer of the cameras, thereNow, and Tennessee Department of Education personnel.

The camera, Flanary said, sits on its own tripod, has two lenses and a cordless microphone that the teacher could wear. He said the two lenses fold up and can be pointed independently of each other.

“With some practice, you could get an entire classroom,” Flanary said.

The Tennessee Department of Education provides keys to the camera only to the individuals who are certified in doing an evaluation.

Board Member Phillip McClain said some of the teachers called him about their concerns. He said they were under the impression the video went to a “Cloud” and then a third party.

Board Member David Hammond agreed, saying the teachers he heard from were more worried about the videos being sent to a third party.

Dykes said the videos are encrypted and are only used for the teacher and observer.

The video is uploaded to a secure website and the only person who has access to view that video was the administrator who created it, Flanary said.

Ideally, he said, their hope was to have the teacher sit down with the administrator while watching the video. After it concluded, a conversation would take place on how to become a better teacher.

Flanary said the key holder would delete the video after the video was viewed.

Faculty meetings were already being held to explain the purpose behind the camera, as well as its functionality.

Board Member Jack Leonard said he believes the presentation of the camera program should have been rolled out in a different manner.

“Teachers are always wanting to improve their instruction,” he said. “Their evaluation is too important to their job not to improve.”

Board Member Mary Lo Silvers said as a retired teacher, she believes she would appreciate the camera program.

“I would want to know what I was doing wrong,” she said. “I would wholeheartedly support it. That is the best way in the world to show how a person could improve themselves.”

Dykes said the concept of the video was it would eventually form a database of some excellent instruction that would be used around the nation with the teachers’ permission.

He told the board and staff who  attended the meeting that “we live in a video world.” When a student steps on a bus every morning, he is on video, Dykes added.

He went on to say that a student is also on video when he or she walks into the school, walks the hall, eats in the cafeteria, goes to the gymnasium or sits in a classroom.

The reason for this is security.

Cameras, Dykes said, have been used in the classrooms in some fashion for 24 years.

‘One purpose, One mission, One passion’

Here is a feel good story that I wrote for the Herald & Tribune about teachers in the Washington County Department of Education receiving grants totalling $20,000. A special ceremony was held for them last week, which gave them all an opportunity to share how they will utilize the grant money in their classroom to further the education of their students.  

Innovative teachers receive Quest awards

Published Jan. 21, 2014 in the Herald & Tribune

Seven grants totalling $20,000 were given to teachers of the Washington County Department of Education last week during a special ceremony sponsored by the Quest Foundation.

Quest Foundation President James Harlan told the recipients that it was a privilege to be there on behalf of the foundation.

“We have just one purpose, one mission, one passion, that is to enhance education and learning in Washington County schools,” Harlan said. “We do that at the classroom level.”

The Quest Foundation has made grants to 21 classrooms in 10 schools over the last three years for more than $64,000. Last Wednesday, it added another $20,000 to the foundation’s grant total.

“The last three years have been a journey for Quest,” Harlan said. “Over $84,000 has been put back in our schools to start that lifetime of learning.”

He went on to say that it is rewarding to put that amount of money back in classrooms.

“That’s the kind of good news that makes this community, this city, a place where it is fun to live,” Harlan said. “We live in a very generous area. We care about other people and care about children.”

The foundation provides grant money for programs and materials that are otherwise unavailable to Washington County teachers. Harlan said the board looks for innovative ideas to enhance preschool to 12th-grade curriculum with a focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Harlan said for most educators at the ceremony, being a teacher was all they ever wanted to do.

“Education is the thing that fundamentally differentiates the United States from the rest of the world,” he said. “We have, in the United States, a lot of things against us in terms of being competitive in the world. One thing that levels the playing field is education. That starts right here in Washington County.”

Harlan recalled a fond memory of when he was in third grade and a teacher who sparked his interest and made learning fun.

“Learning to read is fundamental to what these teachers are communicating to their students and what becomes a lifetime of learning,” he said.

Grant recipients included: Robert St. John and David Yates from David Crockett High School who received $1,774 for their project “Where No One Has Gone Before.”

The grant money will help the teachers purchase an aerial photography system that will be integrated between the media and CAD department, as well as the biology department.

Cindy McAvoy, a 6th- grade math teacher at Lamar School, received $1,709 for her project “Parents as Learning Partners – Partnerships Today that Create Success Tomorrow.”

McAvoy said many parents have shared their concern about wanting to help their children with their math, but the parents do not know how. Thanks to the grant, she will now be able to offer a workshop that provides ideas and ways for parents to support their children.

Rachel Horn and Mike Taylor of Daniel Boone High School received $3,600 for their project “Improving Student Learning with 21st Century Data-Collection Technology.” The teachers teach AP physics and physical science.

Horn said the grant will allow them to buy lab equipment for students to craft data in real time during their experiments in physics.

Twana McKinney and the David Crockett High School science department received $4,727 for the project “Technology and Common Core.”

McKinney said they will also receive equipment that will provide real-time data for students to use as evidence for reference in writing skills.

Penny Elliot Lowe, a 5th-grade math teacher at Ridgeview Elementary, received $4,500 for her project “Addressing the Learning Gap in Mathematics using iPads.”

She said she did not have an iPad until last year and was amazed with what it could do. Lowe said she saw many opportunities for using the iPad in the classroom.

“(I can) use the iPads as another way to have a deep engagement with what we are doing in mathematics,” she said, adding that students can develop their own math presentations.

Kristie Payne, a third- grade teacher at Fall Branch Elementary, received $1,689 for her project “I want to be a Mathematician.”

She said the grant will fund iPads for her students, which will allow them the opportunity to develop key mathematical concepts through the use of technology. Payne said there are many apps that help students take concrete mathematical applications and apply them abstractly.

Jackie Mumpower, a 3rd- grade teacher at Ridgeview Elementary, received $2,000 for her project “Transforming 21st Century Education through Laptops.”

She said her students will use the laptops to create PowerPoint presentations. Harlan said the amount of grants they are not able to fully fund is the reason the foundation continues to raise money.