VA county a study in etech turnaround

Awarded a major tech award by National School Boards, Loudon County, VA, boasts SMART boards, online courses and a hunger for the tech advantage.

The Washington Post profiles Loudon County, Va.'s school system, which 10 years ago was "limping along" but was recently awarded the National School Boards Association's Technology Salute District award. In March, a group of national educators will visit Loudoun and the two other districts to see how those jurisdictions have used technology to enhance learning.

One advanced-technology tool that Loudoun uses is the SMART Board -- a touch-screen white board that eliminates the traditional chalk and erasers associated with teaching. A teacher writes on the screen with a finger, and whatever is written is stored electronically. Students can retrieve the information later by visiting the teacher's Web site.

The SMART Board technology makes teaching complex subject much easier, says Betty Korte, a math teacher at Stone Bridge High School.

"In math, where a lot of abstract concepts need to be understood, I can use a lot of the features to make it more real for the kids," Korte said. "I've been able to see the difference in their ability to understand these concepts before and after using the tool. In my mind, there's just no comparison."

Today, every Loudon school has one two board. The aim is to have a board in every classroom by 2010, says Preston Coppels, the system's director of instructional services.

"It's probably the most explosive technology in education," he said.

Key to the award is the district's online courses, which the county began providing five years ago.

Through a partnership with George Mason University and the school systems in Stafford and Warren counties, students who otherwise can't complete classes -- because of long-term illness or lack of time in their schedules -- may register for online classes hosted by the GMU Web site.

The classes are self-taught, but teachers from Loudoun, Stafford and Warren counties answer questions via e-mail and chat. Coppels said that the pass rate for online courses has been exceptionally high and that students have given the service high marks.

The school system is looking forward to wireless technology as well.

"I really think wireless is the future," said assistant superintendent Sharon Ackerman. "The ability to roll the computers in . . . you don't eat up a whole room with a permanent computer lab, and every student can have them on their desks. We are looking in the future to go wireless."