Hall County school board members took strides on Monday to ensure schools continue to progress in technology initiatives and multicultural learning despite a weakened economy.
Citing the popularity of the Da Vinci Academy and the World Language Academy, which emphasize foreign languages in the classroom, board members considered adding a language academy at South Hall Middle School. Such an academy would supplement the Da Vinci Academy, which currently offers sixth- through eighth-graders lessons driven by technology, arts and sciences.
“I will be disappointed if the Da Vinci Academy is where it ends,” Schofield said. “I think we’re scratching the surface in authentic and engaged learners.”
As dual-language coordinator at the World Language Academy, Carrie Woodcock told the board she sees firsthand the effect multicultural learning has on students’ interest in learning.
“These kids are inquisitive. They’re embracing the cultures around them,” she said. No definite plans to add another academy were made at the meeting but the possibility for future need was acknowledged.
“We recognize that we have a need to provide something at some point,” Woodcock said. “We need to provide these students with the opportunity to choose an international education to prepare them for our global world. They are not gonna be the typical middle school students.”
Also on Monday, Flowery Branch High School got the green light to allow some student cell phone use during school hours.
The Hall County Board of Education approved Principal Mark Coleman’s plan to begin easing regulation on cell phone use between classes and during lunch.
“We feel like it’s time to start looking at and embracing technology and utilizing it as best as possible,” Coleman told board members. “(The pilot program) may not work. We may be back here saying we need to scrap this, but I believe this is what’s coming in the future.”
Coleman cited an example of a similar initiative at a Florida high school, which he said saw school deferrals for cell phone use drop 85 percent.
“I think we have so gotten beyond banning that we ought to be talking about ethical use of technology, not blocking technology,” Superintendent Will Schofield said.
Flowery Branch teachers Bridget Rodriguez and Kim Grennan said allowing cell phone use during limited hours would give students the opportunity to check messages from and arrange after-school plans with their parents. It would also open up more possibilities in the classroom, such as communicating with other schools outside the state or country.
“The more privilege and responsibility you give (students), they actually step up to the plate and they appreciate and respond to those responsibilities in a manner that we expect them to,” Rodriguez said. “I also believe technology is not going away.”
Grennan took advantage of students’ cell phones when she ran out of calculators during a lab experiment.
“As a parent, I know that sometimes I even message (my middle school student),” she said. “I guarantee there are some other parents in here that have had to do the same thing.”
But teaching responsible cell phone use could prepare students for the future, she said.
Coleman’s proposal would allow faculty to draw up guidelines on cell phone use, allowing students to use them before first period, between classes and during lunch. They intend to implement the new policy in the coming weeks to allow enough time for observation and to gauge results.
There were also two retirement announcements made at the meeting. Hall County’s Director of School Nutrition Cookie Palmer and White Sulphur Elementary School Principal Don Watson will retire effective June 1.