Dedicated technology director leaves a lasting legacy in Cherokee County

Cherokee County School District

Published: March 21st, 2023

John James, director of information technology at Cherokee County School District (CCSD), knew that technology was the means for keeping students engaged in learning, and he was deeply committed to providing his teachers with the very best edtech resources to do just that. When James began working at CCSD in 2019, the district was 1:1 with devices. But other than Chromebooks™, there was minimal interactive technology throughout the district’s more than 500 classrooms.

James believed interactive panels gave students a “jolt of light” for learning and he felt they were more important than 1:1 devices. Under his watchful leadership, James ushered in a technology transformation across CCSD’s 17 campuses with the ActivPanel. Along the way, he built partnerships at every level. With steadfast commitment and thoughtful attention to making sure everyone felt heard, he fostered community, connection, and engagement inside his district and out.

Teachers take the lead when selecting technology

Around the time James started at CCSD, six schools were consolidated into three, and 26 new modular classrooms were added to the remaining campuses. James planned to outfit the new modular classrooms with edtech first as a pilot project.

James had positive experience with Promethean, having updated the district he worked for prior to CCSD to the ActivPanel in 2014. During that upgrade, he developed a strong working relationship with Ernie Faulkenberry, Promethean solutions sales executive. But he felt it was important to evaluate all options. Before making a decision, he looked at several companies to ensure he made the right choice.

As an IT guy, James knew the features he would look for weren’t the ones teachers would focus on. So he set up demonstrations of different panels and invited 41 teachers to participate in making the decision. As they began testing the displays, the ActivPanel immediately stood out for its intuitive user interface.

James was also impressed with how the panel integrated with the district’s current technology including Chromebooks and Google Drive™. When he asked teachers what their preference was, it didn’t surprise him that they consistently chose the ActivPanel. With the decision made, he placed an initial order for 26 panels.

Technology integrators become change champions

The district’s technology integrators, who have the critical job of maintaining equipment and teaching educators to use it, were a little nervous about the sweeping change on the horizon. But James reassured them that they were in this together and that they’d have ownership of the new technology. It was important to him that they felt empowered and a part of the change throughout the roll out.

Ahead of the installation, the integrators trained with Faulkenberry and Megan Greene, Promethean education consultant. They also completed self-guided online training through Learn Promethean. Impressed with the online courses, Pamela Oliver, technology integrator, said, “All the resources that Promethean offered us have been amazing.” Bite-sized sessions that teach a single tactic, like how to use an app, have been particularly helpful and are easy for integrators to share with teachers.

While the integrators quickly took the reins, Faulkenberry and Green were available whenever support was needed. “We’d be there all the time if it was needed,” said Faulkenberry. “That’s an open invitation from us in our partnership.” Now, integrators provide trainings for teachers during planning periods that are tailored to each teacher.

School board witnesses the power of the smart panel

Not long after James placed his initial order, an open house was scheduled for parents to tour the new modular classrooms. James was hoping the new panels would arrive and be installed in time for the big event, but that was looking unlikely. Scrambling, he asked Faulkenberry and Matt Fowler, technology group account executive at Encore, Promethean’s sales partner, for help. Faulkenberry and Fowler pitched in to get the panels delivered and set up in every class. As the teachers set up their rooms, the installers were working to get the last of the panels installed.

During the open house, James found confirmation that he’d made the right choice. As a group of parents were taking with the teacher, he invited the students to come up to the panel. Bringing up the whiteboard, he showed them how to use the panel to draw including using all their fingers at once. The students responded with enthusiasm. To see the excitement on the students faces and their engagement with the panel, was the ultimate rewarding for James.  

Initially James thought he’d slowly roll out panels across the district as the budget allowed, but when CARES funding became available, he jumped at the opportunity to upgrade more classrooms. He just needed the school board’s approval. He enlisted a fifth-grade teacher to give a demonstration for the board and the board members were so impressed, they approved panels for all 524 of the district’s classrooms in one fell swoop.

Teachers discover new capabilities with the ActivPanel

Well before the panels were installed in classrooms, teachers went to group trainings. Even teachers who previously struggled with technology found the ActivPanel easy to use.

“Teachers picked it up and haven’t missed a beat,”

Melody Smith, technology integrator

As far as instruction, there’s been no downtime. It’s been a smooth transition.”

Teachers love using the timers and spinners to enliven their lessons. And they appreciate the flexibility to move learning groups to different places in the room. “They use the panel for centers, with three or four kids working on it while the teacher works in other small groups. Without having cables and cords, they can roll the panel around the room,” said Smith.

Creating equal, efficient, and proactive learning environments

During the rollout experience, “everybody felt included. No teachers were left out,” explained Pamela Oliver, technology integrator. “For everyone to have the same equipment makes our job so much easier.” Rather than fixing technology problems, the integrators now spend their days helping teachers maximize their capabilities with the panels. “It’s exciting because we’re teaching the teachers something new, how they can be more productive or offer more engagement in their classroom,” said Oliver. “It’s not frustrating, it’s fun!”

Many people were involved in the success of this edtech revolution, but John James was the heart of it, leading with his enthusiasm, passion, and firm belief that technology should be available in every classroom in his district. The legacy of his commitment to education and connection within the Cherokee County community can be seen in the lessons delivered in every classroom each day.

During our interview with John James, we were wowed by his enthusiastic commitment to providing his schools with the best technology and his thoughtful attention to making sure everyone felt heard and included in the district’s technology transformation. His warm nature and energy for his work were palpable. At the end of our conversation, he left us feeling uplifted and inspired. Sadly, not long after our interview, John passed away. We send our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and the Cherokee County community.

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