Superintendent Mark Edwards will never forget the words of a grandmother who was raising three boys in Virginia’s Henrico County Public Schools back in 2000. Edwards was in the midst of overseeing the largest digital conversion initiative in the U.S., bringing 26,000 laptops to his district of 50,000 students and an almost 50 percent poverty rate. As he was checking out a laptop for her family to take home, the grandmother grabbed his hand and thanked him for changing everything for her boys. She said she now felt like they could compete.
“We had an equity divide, a hope divide, an opportunity divide,” said Edwards. “It was time we stepped up our efforts to bring equity and opportunity to all students. This was not just equity for the classroom, it’s equity for our families.”
Edwards has been called a pioneer in bringing 1:1 education technology to public schools. He was the American Association of School Administrators’ 2013 national superintendent of the year and has been a mentor to more than 20 administrators who have followed in his footsteps, promoting technology to improve academic results.
As superintendent in North Carolina’s Mooresville Graded School District from 2007 to 2016, Edwards oversaw a digital conversion there as well, using education technology to personalize learning and improve collaboration among educators. He is the author of Every Child, Every Day: A Digital Conversion Model for Student Achievement and a new book, Unstoppable Momentum, co-written with Michael Fullan, which illustrates that transformation is all about focusing on culture and pedagogical progress.
When Edwards started in Moorseville, the NAACP was preparing to file a class-action lawsuit because African-American graduation rates were so low compared to other students. Every student in the district in grades three through 12 was given a device to take home all day, every day. Five years after the digital conversion, the graduation rate was 98 percent, No. 1 in the state.
“This is a clear indication of the equity of opportunity. It’s important for leaders to understand the ebb and flow of change leadership and how to build a culture with a strong disposition for ambiguity,” he said. “That cultural change is one of the challenges, but also one of the engines that can drive innovation once you get that culture set up.” —Jennifer Snelling