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Kings Highway reopens as technology magnet
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Kings Highway Elementary School will transform into Kings Highway Elementary Magnet School for Innovation and Digital Learning this summer ready to open for the 2014-2015 school year.
CLEARWATER – Children’s voices will echo in the halls of Kings Highway Elementary in the fall, after being closed and vacant since 2009. When it reopens for the 2014-15 school year, it will be known as Kings Highway Elementary Magnet School for Innovation and Digital Learning.

The school will serve kindergarten through grade 5 with two classes per grade, as well as 12 voluntary pre-kindergarten classes of 4-year-olds. The Pinellas County School Board recently approved Garyn Boyd, current principal of Seventy-Fourth Street Elementary in St. Petersburg, as the new Kings Highway principal. The board also appointed Robert A. Kalach, Jr., current principal of Safety Harbor Elementary, as principal of the new Center for Innovation and Digital Learning at Gulf Beaches Elementary in St. Pete Beach. This school has also been shuttered since 2009 and is opening in the fall as a sister magnet school.

There are about 232 seats for kindergarten through fifth grade, and about 300 seats for VPK. There is still plenty of room, so kids can still register for classes, Boyd said.

Boyd loves having the VPK classes in the school as well as about an exciting opportunity for the children – Suzuki violin lessons twice a week.

“We have the small size violins for the pre-K,” Boyd said. “There’s all kinds of research out about the window of opportunity for music and learning and that’s the age to grab them, so that’s why we’re going to start in pre-K. I’m excited about that.”

At both magnet schools, every classroom will have a Smartboard, and every kid from kindergarten through fifth grade will receive an iPad that they can take home. Kids can use the iPads for homework and for turning in electronic assignments like people already do for online courses and at universities, Boyd said. The iPads can also be used as e-readers and help to make reading exciting for the kids. There will be both a physical and a digital library, Boyd said. The latter will be accessible for kids on the iPads.

In her time at Seventy-Fourth Street Elementary, Boyd has already had practice using technology to develop kids’ enthusiasm for reading. She organized a program to purchase e-readers that are accessible to kids in third, fourth and fifth grade so they can read the Battle Books on the Sunshine State Reading List.

“When I first came to the school, the students were not motivated to read those books,” Boyd said. “And even though they’re for a range of abilities, they’re somewhat tough to read, so I put in place initiatives for reinforcements and rewards for students. They love the e-readers. So many more kids would check out e-readers and read Battle Books at home.”

Boyd also used additional incentives to get the kids to read these books. After students complete a Battle Book, they take a short comprehension test about the book, and when they pass two of those tests, they get a free Battle Book of their own.

“So they actually get to take a chapter book, and they love it,” Boyd said. “I can’t tell you how many kids are so excited because they get to take a book. In households today, especially Title I schools, so many families don’t have collections of books at home.”

Boyd will continue to implement incentive programs like this at Kings Highway, whether it’s on a school-wide, grade, classroom or individual level.

Technology will be incorporated into many parts of education, and Boyd is excited about the emphasis.

“It permeates every aspect of our lives,” Boyd said. “It’s everywhere, and kids are so drawn to it. Schools for so long have been so traditional in their teaching and learning, and we need to catch up with where kids are today.”

There is still a place for those traditional methods, she said, but it’s important to show the real-world connection to school, learning and technology. When kids go home, they’re bombarded with electronics and technology, and usually they use these resources for games and entertainment. It’s important to use these devices and programs that kids are already interested in to show them that learning can be fun and isn’t limited to school, Boyd said.

Next year, like the rest of the state, the FCATs will be gone, and Kings Highway and all other Florida schools will focus on the Common Core Standards. At the end of each unit, kids will have some kind of cumulative project to demonstrate what they have learned, and the magnet schools will encourage the kids to make them their own.

“Maybe they just want to make a paper-and-pencil book, or they want to publish a book to show what they have learned in this unit,” Boyd said. “Maybe they want to use the computer and do a PowerPoint or a video. So that’s one thing that’s definitely different than other schools – giving the students that opportunity to choose.”

Boyd said that Kings Highway and Gulf Beaches will also work together and collaborate on some of those projects.

“Those projects can include podcasts between our schools – Kings Highway and Gulf Beaches,” Boyd said. “Where actually first-graders can get on a podcast with other first-graders and do some interviewing and comparing of data about weather or something, and the sky’s the limit with things like that.”

The school itself will be goal-oriented, both in the larger realm of meeting the Common Core Standards and also down to an individual level where the students can monitor their own day-to-day progress, Boyd said.

“One of the things we’re really excited about is we have every student develop academic goals for themselves and then monitor those goals and their learning on a program on the iPad,” Boyd said. “So it helps them develop some ownership for student learning.”

The school is working with its tech department to bring it to life, but the vision is to allow the kids to go onto their iPads to track their progress. There are units and scales with the Common Core that go with each unit, and students could pre-assess themselves and also see daily learning goals that help illustrate specifically why they are doing each activity and how that is helping them reach their goal.

It is important that students continue their learning at home to keep reaching for their next goal, Boyd said, but it’s also important that teachers reach out to them on their individual levels.

“It’s an expectation from the get-go (that work continues at home,) and when that happens, you create a learning environment that what you do at home is important,” Boyd said. “It’s reinforcing and extending your learning from the school day. It’s also differentiated based on what the child’s learning level is. There’s no point in sending an assignment home with a child, even if it’s just a book and journaling, if it’s not on that child’s independent level.”

Practicing on that level is key, she said, and there are numerous software programs that will help with that. The school can then track the usage of the programs, so staff can see what students are completing, both by grade level, by classroom and by individual students.

“My task is to get all of my students ready for life, ready for middle school, and my task is to help meet every single child where they come to me,” Boyd said. “Meet them where they’re at, grow them, grow my teachers, grow myself. It’s all about lifelong learning.”

Since the school will be new next year, Boyd has the exciting task of hiring all of her teachers and staff. This is an amazing opportunity that not many principals have the opportunity to do, she said. She is excited to hire teachers who share the same vision and mission where the students and learning comes first and that the teachers grow and learn with their kids.

Boyd believes in being in the trenches with her teachers and students, and she will never have teachers attend curriculum workshops or the like unless Boyd is there learning alongside them. She has been an educator in Pinellas County for 20 years and has a vast background, including primary general education and ESE from kindergarten through grade 12. She has taught every grade in elementary school and also sixth grade and has also taught behavior disorder students in those in all different exceptionalities. After 11 years as a teacher, she has also had five years as an assistant principal and four years as a principal, and she prides herself on always having worked at Title I schools.

Registration is now underway for VPK in Pinellas, which is open to children born between Sept. 2, 2008 and Sept. 1, 2009. Kids in VPK will need their parents or guardians to provide their own transportation, but bussing will be available for kids in all other grades, as long as they live at least two miles away from the school. Kids from all over the county are eligible to attend the elementary school, Boyd said. There will be a modified dress code, which will help set the tone that school is for learning, she said.

The district is working hard to prepare the school for fall. It needs a bunch of things done, from new paint to new flooring nearly everywhere to having some walls removed, Boyd said. Additionally, all of the technology infrastructure needed to be rewired, and since it was vacant, there was no furniture.

“There’s quite a bit of work to do, but it wasn’t horrible,” Boyd said. “It wasn’t neglected. There was no graffiti or anything like that.”

To register for VPK, visit elcpinellas.net/vpk-register.php.

To register for the magnet elementary school, visit www.pcsb.org/dap or call PCS Student Assignment at 588-6210.
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