By Micah Green/The Columbs Commercial Dispatch
STARKVILLE — He has only been in town for a little over two months, and some people still only see Lewis Holloway as another face.
If Holloway’s track record is any indication, it shouldn’t take long for him to become a household figure.
There is a startling statistic that, said Holloway, is crucial in understanding how to address educational issues, especially in high poverty areas — 89 percent of teens living in a household below the poverty line still have a cell phone in their pocket and more often than not, he said, that cell phone has internet access.
“We are struggling to provide computers to teachers and kids when the technology is in their pockets,” Holloway said. “So the question becomes how do you tap into and use that?”
Most recently, Holloway served as superintendent for the Bulloch County School District in Georgia, a district that was ranked eighth nationally in mid-sized schools for its technology use by the Republic’s Center for Digital Education earlier this year.
The national notoriety BCSD received wasn’t there when Holloway arrived.
With the help of Georgia’s one-cent educational local option sales tax (ESPLOST) that netted the county roughly $50 million per year, Holloway brought technology to every aspect of the district. He gives a lot of the credit for his success to the state’s one-cent tax, noting that Georgia has the same sales tax as Mississippi (seven percent).
“In a college town that (revenue) would be a huge number,” Holloway said.
Admitting he was not an economist, Holloway said he wasn’t saying another penny sales tax would necessarily be a good thing for Starkville’s economy, but that the tax was a perfect vehicle for the projects in Bulloch County.
Holloway is not worried much about trying to amass $50 million in Starkville in order to address the district’s technological concerns, again for reasons harkening back to the 89-percent statistic.
“Technology gets cheaper and smaller every year,” he said. “I would have never thought I would have had a camera, a GPS, Internet access anywhere in the world, all in my pocket. But these kids have grown up with it.”
Holloway and the Starkville School District are moving to respond.
For starters, he said the district is in the process of completing the installation of a smart board in every classroom, kindergarten through 12th grade. Holloway said the smart boards give teachers easier, more concise data delivery, and if used correctly can change how teachers organize electronic lesson plans and grade books.
“The students in my past have been more engaged because most of them are digital kids to begin with,” he said. “So there are usually less discipline issues, meaning you can handle more students.”
The district is also working on providing every teacher in the district with a computer through a three-year lease program. This standardized computer system, Holloway said, could be finished as early as September.
“By leasing we are able to do more,” he said. “Because we are going to laptops, it helps our technology center. Instead of dealing with a big box, you can just hand them your computer and get a replacement that is exactly the same back immediately while yours is worked on.”
In addition to a computer for each of the district’s 350 teachers, around 20 more computers will be held in storage in case a teacher needs a loaner.
One project that has been controversial, not just where Holloway has been, but across the country is the implementation of unrestricted YouTube use in the classroom, which will be available to teachers in Starkville this year.
“The biggest issue is that it’s not running through our filter,” Holloway said, while admitting that the educational version of YouTube the site offers is stale and lacks the good content.
“If you want to look at a math class at Berkeley, it’s there. If you want to watch a medical dissection at a medical college, it’s there,” he said. “Is it appropriate for every kid? No, but you can’t let a little bit of bad destroy the whole thing.
“I think the day is not far ahead that we require students to review a lesson on YouTube before coming to class, so instead of homework you get prep work,” he said.
Holloway has embraced technology, and has an obvious faith in these advances to help students in places like Starkville reach their full potential.
“From an educational stand point, there is a lot of bad press out there about Mississippi and our poverty rate and where we are in education, but this technology has can morph all those things.
“We have got kids that can do incredible things and with this technology they will be able to do even more incredible things,” Holloway said.