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Rural Rock Star Superintendent Nominee: Dennis Stockdale

I asked for nominations for rural rock star superintendents in June, and one of the replies I received was from Kyle Smith, the director of technology in Garrett-Keyser-Butler Community School District, in Garrett, Ind.

He wanted to nominate his superintendent, Dennis Stockdale, for Stockdale's vision to make the district a technological leader. Here's what caught my attention: Stockdale has figured out a way for all of his district's 1,875 students to either have an iPad or computer, and he's making wireless access available in every classroom AND in students' homes. Students in grades K-6 will receive iPads, and students in grades 7-12 will use Macbooks.

This isn't a large or wealthy district. Garrett-Keyser-Butler Community School District is in the northeast part of Indiana, just north of Fort Wayne, and 73 percent of its students are low-income. This is Stockdale's first job as a superintendent, and he's starting his fifth year with the district.

The district already had a strong academic foundation when Stockdale became superintendent, but its technology needed serious attention, he said. That became his mission, and he started by renovating the elementary school to support the latest technology. The district then moved on to make improvements to the middle school and now is building a state-of-the-art high school.

The technological progress is impressive, especially considering that many rural communities struggle simply to offer their students broadband Internet access. Although 63 percent of Americans had Internet connection at home in 2009, that figure was only 46 percent in rural areas, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Some of Stockdale's accomplishments have been made possible through a $200,000 Classroom Innovation Grant from the Indiana Department of Education. That will be used to expand Internet connectivity across the geographic region covered by the school district.

Stockdale was concerned with making sure all students have some kind of access to the Internet when they leave school, and the grant will provide mobile hotspot devices for students to check out and use at home. Students' parents also can use the technology to do post-secondary training to better their lives.

"When you're a community school, you can't silo yourself to K-12," Stockdale said.

The same grant also will be used to wire the community recreation center in Garrett so students have a safe place in town to use WiFi.

Stockdale also has:
• Formed a partnership with Full Sail University, an online university with a campus in Florida, to create a web-based professional development library for teachers;
• Ensured the top 10 high school graduates receive a new, donated Macbook to take to college; and
• Built a relationship with a North Carolina software company that's going to design an iPad app for its students.

The 1:1 technology has been paid for through what normally would've been textbook rental fees. Indiana is one of a handful of states that allows schools to collect money for textbooks, so the district used most of that money—about $120 for K-8 students and roughly $200 for high school students annually—toward the devices. The district still buys some textbooks for certain classes. The school board also has shifted much of its discretionary money to steward technology advancement.

Stockdale's advice to rural superintendents who want to improve technology in their districts was: 1. identify all the barriers, and 2. don't quit until you overcome them.

Stockdale clearly isn't letting his district's size or isolation get in the way of providing students a cutting-edge education on the latest technology, and his sensitivity to the community's needs likely helped him rally support to move his ideas forward.

He's a great example of a superintendent making a big difference in a small community, and I wonder how many other rural superintendents in high-poverty areas are as progressive as Stockdale. So if you have a nominee for a rural rock star superintendent, please send it my way.

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