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Profile                                                             Page 43

 

Making a Mark in Mooresville  

 

BY MARIAN KISCH

Mark Edwards
Mark Edwards

A music buff, Mark Edwards uses any opportunity to infuse the medium into the Mooresville Graded School District to promote teamwork — something he considers necessary when pushing bold initiatives in the classroom. At last fall’s convocation, he arranged for the high school marching band and the faculty choir he founded (he also sings bass) to rev up the crowd.

Edwards, 60, has been hitting all the right chords of late. His creative thinking and productive partnerships have put his 5,800-student district in west-central North Carolina at the forefront of the nation’s effort to powerfully infuse learning technology into the lives of teachers and students.

His pacesetting leadership reached a crescendo earlier this year when he was named AASA’s 2013 National Superintendent of the Year.

Edwards made the unlikely move to Mooresville’s superintendency in 2007 after years leading a much-larger system, a vice presidency with a national corporation and a deanship at a state university. The Mooresville schools have met uncommon success since. Achievement has grown across the grades, while the gap among subgroups has narrowed. College attendance has risen markedly.

Edwards has been nothing short of dogged in introducing what he calls a digital conversion of schooling, providing individual laptops to students in grades 4 through 12 for learning anywhere and anytime and to those in the lower grades during school hours. Yet he insists it’s the way teachers use the technology that breeds success, not the hardware itself. Ongoing professional training also is a must for success.

Because Mooresville sits near the bottom of the state in per-pupil expenditures, Edwards eliminated textbook purchases to free up funding for the volume of laptops. He’s garnered widespread public support.

“Mark knows where he wants to go and makes the case for why it should happen,” Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins says. A self-described fiscal conservative, the mayor says he was stunned when Edwards and the school board pushed for a 5 cents per $100 assessed valuation last year in local school taxes, which the community endorsed. “Who else could have made that happen?” Atkins asks.

Edwards, a native of Cookeville, Tenn., is as persistent and driven as they come. Whether he’s overseeing a curriculum innovation or a construction project, he says, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”

He makes it a point to visit every classroom twice a year and recognize staff members along the way. Those practices spark creativity at all levels. A school bus driver started a “read on your way home” project to increase literacy, while a school custodian tried out a new floor wax on his own time.

In a letter nominating Edwards for the national honor, school board President Karen Hart called the superintendent “the very essence of leadership. … He believes that if you are not moving forward, you are declining.”

He’s become such a font of knowledge for others that Mooresville designates a single day each month for visitors. His book, Every Child, Every Day — A Digital Conversion Model for Student Achievement, was published in February.

A son of two educators, Edwards promotes public education at every step. “Our public schools are the backbone of this country,” he says.

Asked whether he might return to the corporate world given his national visibility, Edwards offers an emphatic “no.” “I enjoy seeing my 12-year-old grow up in this community and being part of the digital conversion. … This is the work and the place where I’m the happiest.”

Marian Kisch is a freelance writer in Chevy Chase, Md. E-mail: mariankisch@verizon.net  

BIO STATS: MARK EDWARDS

Currently: superintendent, Mooresville, N.C.

Previously: vice president for business development, Harcourt Assessment

Age: 60

Greatest influence on career: My parents are both retired educators, and their influence regarding the belief in public education stays with me every day.

Best professional day: Every year, the first day of school is simply inspirational in terms of the widespread sense that “this could be the best year ever.”

Books at bedside: The Forgotten by David Baldacci and Happiness by Thich Nhat Hanh

Biggest blooper: My first year as a superintendent in Danville Va., we had our first weather projection of snow. I did not hesitate to call off school and not only did we have no snow, the sun came out and it was a beautiful day.

Why I’m an AASA member: The collegial connections and the professional development opportunities.
 

 

 

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