South Carolina is one of the primary states affected by the technological rift between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” But one school district in Myrtle Beach, S.C., is forging ahead with technology integration, thanks to a committed technology director and a supportive community.
Horry County Schools is one of the largest districts in the state, with 43 schools and more than 27,000 students. It’s also one of the poorest, with 54 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced-priced lunches. But despite the poverty of many of the county’s families, the district has been one of the most forward-thinking and connected school systems in the country for some time.
According to figures from the district, more than $14 million has been spent on technology in the past four years, and more than 8,000 computers are installed in the schools. All schools are connected to the internet and networked to each other.
“We’ve had a good deal of coordination in our technology plan for over 10 years. We’ve always had a consistent image of where we wanted to go, and in 1993, we met for strategic planning and created a technology component,” said Richard Nadeau, director of technology for Horry County Schools.
But it wasn’t easy to get a community that hadn’t accepted the necessity of technology for themselves to accept that their kids needed wired schools.
“The hardest thing we ever did was marshal the resources six years ago in a community that had not yet recognized the significance of technology,” said Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait.
Working with a strong conviction that technology integration was the key to bringing Horry County students into the new millennium, Nadeau set about creating a useful technology plan. “The plan we came up with said technology needed to be the rule, rather than the exception. We knew we wanted every classroom connected, so we earnestly began building a districtwide network. That was completed in 1995,” he said.
With a sound plan in place at a time when many schools had not even begun to consider the importance of internal wiring, Horry County made a community-wide push to rally support for technology funding.
“It was unusual here, because the school district was really one of the leaders that made the whole community recognize the power of the internet. Usually, it’s the other way around, with the community pushing the district to catch up to technology. But Horry County really led the community in the push to bring technology to Myrtle Beach,” Postlewait said.
Having a solid plan for the use of technology to improve education, and a firm conviction of its benefits, were Nadeau’s keys to getting stakeholders on board. Now, the community is seeing the benefits of Horry County’s technology push.
“We actually were the anchor for a small, rural phone company. We opened the door for our dial-tone provider to provide internet access to businesses and the community,” Nadeau said. “We’ve really become the model for the state in terms of connectivity. Every class in our district has a telephone, video input capabilities, and a source to provide a video feed. So, every classroom can serve as a production source. All you have to do is bring a camera in there and plug it into a wall.”
Distance learning is part of Horry County’s vision of the future, Nadeau said
“Right now, we have four distance learning labs, and by August 2000, we expect to have one in each high school. That’s eight total. We’ve used the distance learning labs to provide college-level courses right at our schools,” he said.
In addition to state-of the-art laboratories at each high school, Horry County broke new ground when the doors to its Academy for Arts, Science, and Technology opened in August 1994.
“The academy has been a test-bed for many of our new applications. Many things we do at the academy we now do at the other schools as well. For example, we do a lot of web publishing for small businesses in the community right from the schools,” said Nadeau.
“I’d say Richard Nadeau and the district staff have been outstanding in [rallying support for] funding to the academy and to all schools,” said Jeff Adams, principal of the Academy for Arts, Science, and Technology. “We have a three to one student-to-computer ratio, which is great. Also, I’d say the support group in Richard’s office is just outstanding. Every time we present a question to them, we get a more-than-quick response.”
But the academy is not the only feather in Nadeau’s cap. Plans for the future of integrated learning in Horry County could make it possible for students to take classes right from their home computers.
“We’re also going forward using a Web CT server to create a virtual school. By using this product, teachers with very little experience in web design can publish their courses online. We expect to have a class called Business Computer Applications online by fall, and with these courses, students interact entirely with the technology,” Nadeau said.
According to Nadeau, students will be able to access the virtual school from anywhere.
“It increases the opportunity for students to expand their skills outside the classroom environment,” he explained. Nadeau added that the virtual high school would be helpful for students who want to take classes they can’t fit into their schedules. The virtual school server is currently in place, and the district expects 200 teachers to receive training this summer.
But Nadeau is quick to add that he doesn’t believe every new technology that comes down the pike will be be practical for his district. “I personally don’t jump on every new thing that comes along. New technologies must have substance, be dependable, and have a proven positive impact on teaching and learning. It’s important to look at all that’s available and then make assessments,” he said.
Nadeau is optimistic about the future of technology in his district.
“As technology devices become smaller and cheaper, we will look at abandoning textbooks for CD-ROM and web-based content, attain more portable computers, and use wireless networks. We want technology to be as commonplace as a pen and paper,” he said.
According to Adams, Nadeau just might be the one to make Horry County into one of the most advanced districts in the country. “I think this district is blessed to have him on the staff,” he said.
Horry County Schools
The Academy for the Arts, Science, and Technology