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A Foundation for the Future

Composed of dynamic leaders in the community, the Worcester County Education Foundation was created to make its public schools — and its students — nothing short of world-class

When Dr. Jerry Wilson took over as superintendent of Worcester County public schools in July 2012, he was a man with an agenda. He was determined to incorporate the benefits of technology into the everyday academic experience for students at all grade levels. The Worcester County Education Foundation (WCEF) was formed to make Dr. Wilson’s vision a reality. Tasked with facilitating partnerships between the public schools and the community for the purpose of better meeting the educational needs of its students, the WCEF is the lead fundraising organization for Dr. Wilson’s technology initiative and the first of its kind on the Lower Eastern Shore.

“We’ve been the number-one public school system in the state a number of years,” said Worcester County Assistant Superintendent for Administration Lou Taylor, who is spearheading the initiative. “And while we could all work to maintain that status, we think our children deserve an even higher standard of excellence. When Dr. Wilson came to us as our superintendent, he said, ‘This is an outstanding school system for sure, but I think we have the potential to be world-class, and that’s what I want us to achieve.’ So this foundation is a very important, even critical, overture to making that goal a reality.”

Todd Ferrante of Park Place Jewelers and Greg Shockley of Shenanigans, the respective chairman and vice-chairman of the WCEF, as well as several other prominent members of the community, joined Taylor to lend their support to the foundation.

“Researchers say that 65 percent of today’s grade-schoolers will hold jobs that don’t even exist in the marketplace yet,” Taylor said. “So, if we want to prepare our kids in Worcester County to be able to viably compete for those jobs, the time to act is right now.”

According to Taylor, the early response to the technology-education initiative and the WCEF has been encouraging. Taylor Bank was the first to step up, with an initial endowment of $100,000 to help get the campaign rolling. The first-year goal for the foundation is $1,000,000, to be followed by another $1,000,000 each year for the next four years.

Phase I of the initiative is devoted to what’s called digital conversion, the process by which traditional teaching techniques and tools are modernized to incorporate technology as an intrinsic and fundamental component of a school’s curricula in essentially all subject areas.

“A few months ago, a parent shared with me that when he’d taken his child off to college in September, they told him: ‘You won’t be needing paper and pencils here; we don’t use them anymore.’ So the process has already begun. It’s our mandate to educate our students so that they are ahead of that learning curve.”

“The same is true in the business world,” added Shockley. “I own a restaurant, and we don’t do anything with pencils anymore. It’s all digital now, with touchscreen computers. And it goes beyond that. Even farming has become a technology-based industry with computers, GPS systems and algorithms. So for these kids to have any chance of competing successfully in the workforce of the future, they have to have this technology base, and digital conversion is the first step in the process.”

For the Worcester County Board of Education and the WCEF, that first step includes putting an appropriate digital device in the hands of each of its 6,700 students, from kindergarten through 12th grade. At the elementary level, that means a touch device, such as an iPad, when the need to keyboard is less critical. Middle-schoolers, meanwhile, would most likely engage with a hybrid device, such as a Google Chromebook, which incorporates a keyboard. For high school students, laptops would be provided. Superintendent Wilson has been quoted as saying it will take in excess of $3,000,000 to provide a mobile technology device to each student in the district.

Though the Worcester County public school system is the first on the Lower Eastern Shore to initiate such a program, similar programs are already in place in such counties as Talbot, which is the only county in Maryland to receive less state subsidy for education per student than Worcester. As of the 2014-2015 school year, Baltimore City received $11,164 in state aid per student, whereas Wicomico County — the state’s third-largest recipient — received $9,230 per student. By contrast, Worcester County receives only $2,992 per student.

“Easton High School has a program like this in place, and Carroll County has its own foundation, too, so there are other places in the state that are doing this and having success,” Ferrante said. “In Wicomico County, 70 percent of their public school system’s budget is subsidized by the state, and only 30 percent by the county. In Worcester County, 76 percent of the budget is met by the county. So for the students of the Worcester County public school system, it’s up to us in the community to make sure they don’t fall behind.”

Taylor and the members of the WCEF strongly encourage concerned parents and others to go online and watch “Shift Happens 2014” on YouTube for an eye-opening look at the impact technology is having on all of our lives.
In the meantime, the WCEF will be reaching out to businesses, organizations and private citizens throughout the year in their mission to ensure Worcester County public schools are among the best to be found anywhere in the country. The foundation’s levels of participation range from the $1–$499 “Honor Roll” all the way up to the “Superintendent’s Circle,” for donations of $100,000 or more.

The first mobile digital devices are scheduled to be in the hands of ninth-graders when the 2015 school year begins in September. To learn more about Worcester County’s digital conversion initiative or to make a donation, contact the Worcester County Education Foundation.

View article in Coastal Style Magazine here.

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