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Awesome in the Ozarks

| June 17, 2015 | 0 Comments

The tiny town of St Paul near the Ozark Mountains in rural Arkansas in the US has been described as a place where “the streets are dirt and the poverty generational”.

But principal Daisy Dyer-Duerr has changed the course of history here by changing St Paul High School. Her morning rallying cry is “No excuses. No limits,” and her ability to effect a ‘tech turnaround’ was recognised on 13 March 2015 (Digital Learning Day in the US) when she was named by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) as a Digital Principal of the Year.

The award, says the NASSP, “honours principals who exhibit bold, creative leadership in their drive to harness the potential of new technologies to further learning goals”.

Dyer-Duerr spoke movingly at the Washington, DC convention centre at an event organised by the Alliance for Excellent Education about how this small school – it has 230 students in total – is now ranked in the top 10% in the state of Arkansas.

The secret to Dyer-Duerr’s success is not new, but is in short supply among principals the world over: dynamic leadership made manifest through an expression of trust in teachers. When she took up her post at St Paul, she found a depressingly familiar scene: a number of unused MacBooks and a group of dejected teachers.

Undaunted, she fought for funding to upgrade the school’s connectivity and to buy a batch of iPads. She hired only one new teacher to help get to grips with the MacBooks, to organise a oneday workshop for teacher training and to load the devices with useful apps. At the end of the school year, Dyer-Duerr handed over the technology to her staff, telling them to come back on the first day of term ready for action.

Dyer-Duerr’s legacy is that she never lets up. Technology is a talking point throughout this small rural school that lets staff and students alike know that it’s fine to fail, as long as they tryagain. Thanks to Dyer-Duerr’s relentless efforts, everyone at St Paul High now has access to Netbooks, Chromebooks and Nooks. Google Classroom, Newsela and Kahoot are just some of the apps that are in daily use.

Every staff meeting includes a vigorous technology debate. Students are encouraged to find and review other potentially exciting apps for their teachers. Advisory sessions allow students and staff to search online for scholarship opportunities for further tertiary study. ‘Genius hour’ every Friday enables everyone at St Paul to pursue an online ‘passion project’. And a blended learning laboratory means that St Paul pupils can collaborate with state colleges and universities, taking advanced courses and earning college credit online.

“We should have the expectations for these kids that they’ll go out and be something amazing,” said Dyer-Duerr.

“I want every one of our students to know that their teachers care about them, and want them to be successful.”

Category: Winter 2015

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