Microsoft Director Byron Garrett had been hearing about the successes the Chester County School District was having using technology in the classroom and he decided to come see for himself.
Garrett visited the school district earlier this month. This wasn’t his first visit to Chester County, though. Wearing his other hat as a motivational speaker, Garrett would be familiar to some students in Chester County schools where he provided inspiration before the PASS testing earlier last year.
The N&R got a chance to sit down with Garrett, Microsoft’s Director of Educational Leadership and Policy, before his whirlwind tour of the district later that morning.
“I’m doing a site visit, to see all the great things we talked about a year and a half or two years ago,” he said.
Garrett has kept his eye on the Chester County School District, occasionally posting congratulatory messages on Twitter when schools like Great Falls Elementary Principal Wendell Sumter and his teacher are applauded for their innovative uses of technology.
“I think there are a lot of exciting things happening, and I think the school district has been critical to help the county begin to move forward in a different way. When you have compelling leadership in a district, coupled with leadership external to the school system saying ‘we need to raise the tide on all our young people’s achievement’ I think that improves the overall economic outlook for the county.”
Garrett has visited school districts across the country who are embracing and integrating technology in different ways, and he says every school district is at a different stage of that integration.
“What’s interesting about what you all are doing in Chester is not very different from what Dr. Alberto Carvalho has been able to do in the Miami-Dade (Fla.) School District. So take a top five school district, juxtapose that with a much smaller school district like Chester…totally different economies, but still able to accomplish the same outcome and give the students the same type of access as you would in one of the top cities in the country,” he said.
It doesn’t matter what the district’s demographics are, Garrett believes, “if you have the right leadership, you can really bring the resources to bear to change the entire system. You have been able to do that.”
Garrett mentioned the Microsoft in Education video case study on Chester County that can be found on YouTube.
“We do a handful of those video case studies in a calendar year. The Chester County video has been in heavy circulation, not only internally from a Microsoft perspective, but also externally, so folks at the White House, folks at the U.S. Department of Education have seen it. It’s generated a lot of buzz, because it showcases the best and brightest, and what can happen if you compile all those resources, moving in the same strategic direction,” Garrett said.
Microsoft and its CEO Satya Nadella have partnered with President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative, Garrett said, and Nadella has spent time at the White House…”and we have been asked to tell stories about where we see great work happening (in the schools) and we continue to share that. The Chester County School District is probably the leading example we share,” Garrett said.
He said the successes in the school district, along with the advent of the Giti Tire USA plant means people are starting to take notice of Chester County.
I think you’ve started along that path…where you have businesses that begin to say ‘we recognize the value of Chester County’ and it may seem like you’re remote, but you’re not that far from Charlotte nor Columbia, but we see where the skill level of the young people in Chester is steadily rising, and now we’re interested in making the investment as a facility or a company to put an office in that geographic area. The other piece of what the school district and this are might be seeing in five or 10 years is students going on to do things on a national or international perspective, beyond the district.
“I believe with what (Superintendent) Dr. Slayman has been able to lead and create with the support of the board and educators and staff, is young people will have those types of opportunities,” he said.
During his tour, Garrett visited the SWAT (Students Working to Advance Technology) Team at the Career Center, visited the telemedicine facility at Chester Park, the CATCH room at Lewisville Elementary and classes at Lewisville High School. He also met with Bill Bundy from the Chester Healthcare Foundation to get the community perspective.
“One of the things that makes us unique is we really have a lot of support…from businesses and industry and foundations. That’s where a lot of school districts struggle, not having the support to put ideas into actions,” pointed out Superintendent Dr. Agnes Slayman.
Following his tour of the school district, Garrett posted on the district’s Facebook page the following comments: ‘Thanks to the folks at Chester County School District in South Carolina for hosting me yesterday. Talk about making major strides to provide ALL students access to 21st century learning, technology and dynamic opportunities…well they are doing it and doing it well. Special thanks to Dr. Slayman, Superintendent and the principals/teachers/students who allowed me to drop in for the day. What a great partnership between Microsoft in Education @chester-county-school-district.’