Before becoming superintendent of the Piedmont City Schools—a small, rural district of 1,100 students—Akin was the district’s technology coordinator and also served as principal of Piedmont High School. Because of his technology background, Akin is extremely interested in connecting with the “digital generation.” His participation in the Superintendent Leaders Network, an initiative jointly managed by the School Superintendents of Alabama and the Alabama Best Practices Center, further deepened his commitment to engaging students in learning through the use of technology.
In September, Piedmont became one of the first school districts in Alabama to, in Akin’s words, “engage in a bona fide one-to-one laptop initiative that provides a computer for students’ use 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for all students in grades four through twelve.” With the help of a federal technology grant, the district acquired 800 MacBooks through a lease-purchase agreement. As a result, the project—called MPower Piedmont—has put a computer in 500 homes that never had one before.
Understanding that providing laptops for students was only one part of the equation, Akin looked for opportunities to provide staff training around the successful use of technology. He found funding that enabled 80 percent of Piedmont’s faculty to attend a conference on successful implementation of a one-to-one laptop initiative, where 40 school systems from 18 states were involved. This initial professional learning is reinforced by ongoing support through the district’s technology integration specialists and the state’s Technology in Motion initiative.
Parent meetings were held to review policies and procedures for students’ use of the laptops. All parents were required to attend, and students received the laptops to take home once their parents participated in one of the meetings. But Akin didn’t stop there. Realizing that 65 percent of his students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, he worried that wireless access might not be available to them at home. So he worked with local businesses and churches to bridge the digital gap. As a result, two of Piedmont’s three fast food restaurants now offer free Wi-Fi access. Additionally, churches are now offering free wireless access and supervision of students. Akin is now working with his local housing authority to provide free access there as well.
Ultimately, Akin says, “this project is not only about preparing our students for the future, but preparing our entire community.”