The Orangeburg County School District is introducing new technology designed to help teachers during the coronavirus pandemic.
"This device is going to be a game changer in our hybrid environment," Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Andress Carter-Sims told trustees on Tuesday.
“What this will allow teachers to do is to engage in a much more effective manner and enhance that virtual simultaneous instruction for both the students at home as well as the students at school,” Carter-Sims said.
The technology is called an Owl, which is a thermos-shaped, robotic video camera that captures a 360-degree view of a meeting space and automatically shifts to focus on whoever is talking during a meeting.
The robotic shifting is supposed to replace the remote controls or awkward manual turning of cameras that happens sometimes during video conference meetings.
“As the teacher walks around the room, the Owl will follow that voice,” Carter-Sims said. “It has the capability of knowing who is in the room and zooming in on that student.
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“This will be the primary camera in our classrooms.”
The devices are being rolled out in a systematic fashion to ensure all technological glitches or challenges are lessened upon a full roll out, Carter-Sims said.
She said the devices will be rolled out to all schools and classrooms as soon as possible.
Teachers will receive training on the devices.
Superintendent Dr. Shawn Foster said the district listens to teachers and the Owls are designed to address their needs.
“We know that simultaneous instruction is tough,” Foster said. “But it can be done and research says it can be done if teachers have the proper resources to do it. It is tough on teachers. This is a tough role regardless of how you look at it.”
Trustee Betty Pelzer asked both Foster and Carter-Sims to ensure the district is “filling in the gaps” that are coming about due to virtual instruction.
She says she has seen the challenges her grandson has had with the instruction models in place.
“How are we going to fill these gaps with these children?” she said. “Let’s start working on that plan. I want it to be a really meaningful plan where kids are really going to grow as a result of what we are trying to do.”
In other matters:
• OCSD Assistant Superintendent of Finance Brandi A. Gist said the total revenue collected through Dec. 31, 2020 is $39.6 million. Of that, $3.5 million is local revenue and $34 million is state revenue.
Property tax bills went out in November and were due Jan. 15. Gist said the next financial report will see an increase in local revenues as a result.
General fund expenditures through Dec. 31, 2020 were $52.3 million. Of that, $44 million was personnel costs. About 85% of the district’s budget is staff and employee costs.
• Trustees were informed that mileage reimbursement for board members was raised to 56 cents a mile, effective Jan. 1. The increase is federally mandated.
• Trustees gave first reading to a policy that will allow retired or at-will employees to get 12 days a year for sick leave, but sick leave will not accumulate on an annual basis.
• Trustees were told about a district marketing campaign, "The Signs of Outstanding Students," designed to promote student excellence.
The campaign will aim to influence students’ perceptions of themselves and the traits common among successful students. Traits that will be highlighted include perseverance, engagement and self-discipline.
• Trustees approved a student/staff recognition protocol to be implemented during board meetings.
• The board approved five teacher recommendations.
They include, for 2020-2021, one special education teacher for W.J. Clark Middle School, one English teacher for Carver-Edisto Middle School and one mathematics teacher for Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.
For the 2021-2022 school year, the trustees approved one elementary teacher for Marshall Elementary School and one Spanish teacher for Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.
• The next board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9. The meeting will be livestreamed on the district's website at www.ocsdsc.org.