We were struck this week by the almost stunning juxtaposition of two concurrent events, both of which highlight a real divide that seems to exist in this county between children who are afforded plenty of opportunities to succeed in the short and long term and those who come from families in which meeting basic needs is a struggle.
On one hand, officials with Lenoir City Schools this past week were in the process of distributing Chromebooks as part of its ongoing initiative to provide students with laptops equipped with Google Cloud technology, while Loudon County Education Foundation is getting ready for its annual Stuff the Bus campaign to distribute school supplies to needy children in the area.
In all likelihood, then, certain students who stand to benefit from cutting-edge technology used in the school district also have parents who rely on the generosity of others to get necessary materials for the classroom.
While both of these programs are certainly a good thing for the community, we can’t help but be concerned for students who will inevitably fall through the cracks and get left behind if Loudon County Schools, which is tasked with educating about 67 percent of all students in the county, does not find a way to bolster technological opportunities for students, even if that might mean making some local investments into laptops and infrastructure.
Although it goes largely unspoken, it’s no secret that officials with the city and county seem to emit a strange sense of competition between the two school districts, as both vie for quality teachers and resources. But when the education of our students is concerned, this attitude, simply put, needs to be left to the football field.
As we never tire of repeating, the health of the community depends on the education of our young people, and members of Loudon County Commission, which is the funding body for the county district, should always be amenable to making sacrifices to their own political capital to boost opportunities for children in the classroom — even if it means ginning up some local revenue to pay for it.
Likewise, Loudon County Schools should always be ready to implement a smart approach, even if it means borrowing a good idea — perish the thought — from the city school system.
And plugging schools into the Cloud, streamlining connectivity and equipping all students with Chromebooks is a great idea.
Here is how the city district did it. Two years ago, Lenoir City Schools received a $25,000 grant from the LCEF, and the district purchased tablets for use in kindergarten and first grade and laptops for a fourth-grade class. Officials attempted to place at least one piece of equipment in each school from the grant money. Last year, the city provided laptops for the entire seventh grade through local funds.
This year, the district is dipping into its fund balance and ponying up about $175,000 to provide laptops to students across third through eighth grades, with plans to add the high school next year. Along the way, the city has invested, through a combination of federal E-Rate contributions and local money, more than $1 million in infrastructure to incrementally increase bandwidth at the three schools.
All of these additions will no doubt positively impact students in Lenoir City, but, of course, these efforts will only reach 2,260 students out of the estimated 7,000 that grace school hallways across the county.
Meanwhile, the new TNReady test will be administered almost exclusively online this year, and new standards, whenever they come down the pipe from Nashville, will certainly require a high degree of student competency in technology.
In order to keep up with these changing trends in education, the county is going to have to make some tough, and potentially unpopular decisions, for the betterment of our young people, or else run the risk of providing a whole class of children with an inadequate education that ill-prepares them for an industry that is ever reliant on things like laptops, tablets, apps and social media.
Officials with Loudon County Schools can certainly expose students to new technologies while they are at school, but as with every other instructional element, what happens in the classroom is not enough.
The county would be wise to take a lesson from Lenoir City Schools and abandon any perceived attitude that might drive a wedge in cooperation, for the primary mission of educators across the county should include supporting the educational development of children and bettering the community as a whole — shared goals that are not, by the way, mutually exclusive.