Signal sought on cellphones

Published 10:25 pm Friday, June 14, 2013

Proponents of a pilot program at King’s Fork High School that has been allowing students to use their own portable electronic devices in class will be keenly anticipating what the school’s new principal thinks of the policy.

On Thursday, Suffolk School Board members voted to defer deciding how to proceed with the pilot, including whether to roll it out to all three of the city’s public high schools, until hearing from Stenette Byrd Jr., who takes the reins from Suzanne Rice as King’s Fork High principal July 1.

They also want to hear from Douglas Wagoner, who becomes principal of Lakeland High School, and Nansemond River High School’s Thomas McLemore.

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“It just seems unfair to students at the other two high schools who might have their devices taken away” if they use them in class, Judith Brooks-Buck told the meeting, reflecting on the fact that board members were being asked to authorize the policy at only one school.

Enoch Copeland questioned how Byrd might respond to the policy when he takes over at King’s Fork High. “He may not be in favor,” Copeland said. “You are tying his hands before he gets in there.”

Rice updated the meeting on the pilot, in which her teachers govern how students use their devices in class.

Forty-seven teachers have integrated devices into their classrooms while 37 have elected not to, Rice said, citing survey results.

“Going paperless has been very popular,” she said. “Many teachers are getting students to submit homework electronically.

“They receive assessments electronically, complete it electronically, and then submit it electronically.”

A history teacher has been putting information packets for students to access on Google Drive, Rice said, and smartphone calculators and calendars have been helping students solve math problems and organize their school schedules.

But one surveyed teacher responded negatively. “Her concern was the oversight of the usage throughout the building,” Rice said. “She thought some students were abusing it.”

Ongoing staff development and coaching of students on correct usage is key, according to Rice.

Expanding on Copeland’s point, board member Linda Bouchard made the suggestion that the three current and future principals need to be consulted.

“The thing about Dr. Rice — she was willing to heavily support this in her school,” Bouchard said.

Board member Phyllis Byrum added, “I think we need to get input from those principals as to how they feel toward this. We should give them an opportunity to have their say.”

“Considering two of our high schools will have new administrators, I think that’s very appropriate,” district superintendent Deran Whitney said.

Byrd, who is currently the principal at Smithfield High School and is taking over as principal of King’s Fork High on July 1, could not be reached for comment Friday.