By COLLIN BROOKS
A fresh coat of paint inside her new office welcomed Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton to her first official day on Friday, July 1.
The slower pace of the county is a little different than the active Nashville scene that Halliburton is used to, but she couldn’t be any happier to be in her current seat. Halliburton was full of excitement as she sat down with the Herald & Tribune during her first day, even taking some time to step outside of her office to introduce herself to a parent and two Daniel Boone students who were on their way to get their learner’s permits.
It’s sort of a return to county living for Halliburton, whose father lived on a farm in Kingston Springs with her uncle and raised beef cattle. Her mother lived about five minutes from downtown Nashville, so it was a treat for the young Halliburton to get to see both sides of her home state while she was growing up.
“I was a kid, but until I was about 16, that was my life,” said Halliburton, who broke into a wide smile when she mentioned that she knows how to saddle a horse. “My parents divorced when I was pretty young, so I got a taste of being in downtown Nashville and then living on a farm.”
That isn’t necessarily the area of expertise that has many members of the community excited that she has claimed the new title of Washington County Director of Schools.
The largest feather in her cap is her familiarity with technology. She was a lead principal in Nashville, which included being the principal for one of the system’s two technology demonstration schools in Waverley-Belmont. She and two teachers were the team that assembled the technology that would be installed in Waverley-Belmont and Smith Springs.
And her strength in technology is seen by many — including Halliburton — to be one of the weaknesses in the Washington County school system.
“I think that the teachers and the students don’t really have the technology that is needed to bring us up to speed from an instructional point of view, where most school districts of our size are,” Halliburton said. “I think Ron Dykes did a great job of bringing the district forward in that area and I think he has put some things in place that I can build upon, but we are certainly not where we need to be in terms of student technology and teacher technology.”
Halliburton has already enacted a plan to make strides forward in this area. She told the Herald & Tribune that two ClearTouch interactive panels are being shipped to Washington County and she hopes that they will be here by July 27.
One will find its home inside of the Washington County Board of Education while the other will be located in Washington County’s first technology demonstration classroom.
While the classroom hasn’t been publicly identified, Halliburton did say that one of the conditions for the classroom was that school board members and county commissioners would be able to stop by and watch classes in session with the technology in action.
It was important for county officials to be able to access the classroom while class is in session, so that they will be able to see what the big vision is for the future of the county.
“County officials can go and see what the big vision is for the district and what I would like to outfit every classroom with,” Halliburton said. “We do want our decision makers in this community to be able to go in and see a glimpse of the vision that I have for the system.”
The system will also have a educational, as well as a safety element.
“We are going to put this interactive panel in one of our elementary schools and we are going to outfit that same classroom with surround sound and a camera in the classroom which is controlled by the teacher,” Halliburton said.
The camera will only be used to record lessons at the teacher’s discretion, but will also have the capability to go live to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office if the teacher hits the panic button. The Sheriff’s Office will then be able to see why the distress call was made.
The vendors are providing the technology, so there will be no cost to the taxpayers.
Even during her first day on the job, Halliburton wasn’t quiet about one of her biggest goals for the system, which is to have a one-to-one ratio when it comes to students and devices. But she said that she doesn’t want the parents of the school district to be concerned about the use of technology in the classrooms.
“We are going to use our technology in a meaningful, purposeful and instructional approach,” Halliburton said. “So parents will never need to be concerned that we are going to place our students in front of a screen all day. No instrument takes the place of a real-life person who cares for their son or daughter. And devices can’t take the place of a good instructional teacher.”
A good blended learning balance in an elementary school, K-5, is really about 30-50 percent of the instructional day, according to Halliburton. From kindergarten to second grade, students should be learning to read — but beginning in third grade, students should be reading to learn.
That includes a shift in the use of blended learning in middle school to close to 50-60 percent and even higher in high school, Halliburton added.
Washington County will also take a new look at social media, with Halliburton and the Washington County Department of Education each on Twitter. The new director also said that she hopes each school and perhaps even each teacher will be active on Twitter, as another way to communicate.
Halliburton will also be welcoming Mike Rutherford of the Rutherford Learning Group to give a presentation to school board members, county commissioners, school principals and two teachers that have been identified by their principals will be able to attend the training event.
“He is all about teacher talent and developing the existing talents in teachers,” Halliburton said.
Rutherford provides an in-depth examination of 23 theme of teacher artisanship, which will be an ongoing process between he and the county.