North Carolina school district streamlines education technology to help attract new teacher talent

Students using ActivPanel in the classroom.

Published: March 5th, 2024

Situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the shores of the Catawba River in North Carolina, Hickory City Schools (HCS) is a small, award-winning district with approximately 4,100 students that fill the halls of a primary school, four elementary schools, two middle schools, and two high schools.

HCS teachers and administrators help shape students’ careers by actively supporting technology-rich school environments. Each student in middle and high school has a Chromebook to encourage productive technology use inside the classroom, giving them a well-rounded education in all types of situations.  

Most recently, the district updated its previous hodge-podge collection of front-of-class technology devices to a more cohesive solution, so every student has the same learning opportunities across the board.

Currently, the district has 345 new Promethean ActivPanel displays, which is enough to fill every classroom, media centers, and gymnasiums throughout the district’s nine public schools. The new panels took the place of old projectors—some up to 15 years old—that had dull bulbs and faulty filters.

A big change for a small district

Most teachers were excited for the change, but a few were overwhelmed by having to learn something new along with everything else they were juggling. HCS reassured apprehensive teachers that they would be able to do the same basic functions as they did with the projectors, just with a brighter, clearer display.

Jeff Tice, director of technology for HCS, said there was a lot of excitement among teachers about learning how to integrate the panel into their lessons. “There was enthusiasm at first that everybody was getting something new and cool,” he said.

Donna Danner, fourth-grade teacher at Jenkins Elementary School, didn’t have much technology to work with when she first started teaching. She projected from her computer for several years until the school received big-screen TVs. “I then ran everything through our television, which did not work out well because I had a habit of writing on my TV,” she said, laughing. “You kind of have to go with what you have.” The students are excited about the new panels, too.

Using the Promethean board with the students’ Chromebooks, is so easy.

Donna Danner, fourth-grade teacher

“And then, of course, it makes them want to present what they have, knowing that they have control of it,” said Danner.

Increasing student engagement

Student engagement is a consistent priority throughout most school districts around the world. As technology advances and students become more familiar with using it at younger ages, it becomes more important to use tech in all types of classrooms and situations.

Danner said using the ActivPanel consistently has enhanced her students’ interactivity and her own planning and lesson execution. “It’s just such a joy between student engagement and the lessons, it just improves it all,” she said.

Taylor Barnhardt, seventh-grade teacher at Grandview Middle School, has been with HCS for six years and was using a projector until the end of August 2023. “We had to have our computer, the HDMI connected to it, and everything plugged up,” she said.

Now, she tries to use the ActivPanel as much as possible in her classroom. “I use it all the time. For warmups, Google slides, all my documents are there. I can screenshot any notes I have and post them.” Barnhardt holds competitions, plays games, uses the Timer and Spinner, and has students come up to the panel. “I love that I can change the orientation of my classroom,” Barnhardt continued. “I can move it wherever and have it in any direction, and I don’t have to have my computer connected to it. I’m so glad it’s something different. It’s phenomenal.”

students engaging with ActivPanel in the classroom.

Attracting new teacher talent

According to the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina, North Carolina saw the largest spike in teacher turnover out of eight sample states between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. After the 2022-2023 year, 16% of teachers left, compared to less than 12% in the three years before the COVID-19 pandemic. Reasons for leaving ranged from lack of support, workload, and decreasing student engagement.

“Teachers are leaving the profession,” Danner said. “We need to have a way that makes education engaging, and not just for the students.” Danner believes adding things like Promethean panels and devices that make things easier for teachers is going to be the way that districts can attract new teachers to their schools. “These are going to be the types of resources we’re going to have in the future, and I think that will draw teachers at a time where we’re losing them.”

Danner says her new ActivPanel has helped with the mental load that weighs down the teacher community. “It’s just a different experience and it makes it so much easier when you’re teaching the lesson,” she said. “I am very, very glad that the district chose to go with the Promethean boards. This has been a great experience not only for me, but for my classroom.”

One key to adding new technology and making sure it helps and not hinders, is making sure it’s easy to learn and use from the beginning. As the director of technology for the past 30 years, Tice believes the experience has been positive. “I’ve seen teachers, I think day one, that were touching and playing with the panels right off the bat,” he said. “It’s seemingly been adopted well, and I would say probably more so than a lot of other technologies that we’ve had in the district.”

Having all the same technology in each classroom levels the playing field for the teachers at HCS, but it also helps prospective teachers make their decisions easier when considering employment with the district.

Everybody has the same thing now. It’s made us more like a learning community where we can share things back and forth with each other and learn from each other.

Lisa Doyle, media coordinator at Southwest Primary School.

Doyle has been with Southwest Primary for 18 years and remembers when everyone had something different. “It’s almost like an award for all the hard work and everything. It makes things so much easier and streamlines everything you need to do.”

The future of edtech at HCS

While the future of education technology is still unknown, it’s no secret that things will continue to evolve—so it’s important to evolve together.

“It’s going be more online, more use of technology in the classroom, more students with devices in their hands,” Danner said. “Don’t look at it as just another piece of technology that you have to learn, but it’s something that’s really going make your life easier as a teacher if you’re willing to just try.”

And for students? The thrill hasn’t worn off just yet.  

Doyle said the panel helps students learn that technology has a purpose, it’s not just used for games and fun. “It’s more engaging and it gives the students a little bit more confidence,” she said. “They love to share, and it’s gotten kids more excited about sharing their work who otherwise wouldn’t have shared anything.”

Danner has a similar sentiment. “My kids were excited when they saw the board and they’re still just chomping at the bit to be the one to share.”

Is an ActivPanel right for your school? Learn more and request a demo today.