Last week Alabama state Treasurer Young Boozer, popped in too. And Wednesday, Principal Adam Clemons is expecting state Rep. John Merrill of Tuscaloosa.
These and other planned visits are part of an effort by Clemons to showcase how the school is training students for life after graduation. Clemons said he hopes the exposure will lead to more jobs in Piedmont and the surrounding area.
A state economic development officials says, Piedmont’s approach is worthwhile.
“We don’t always know the great work that’s being done in our high schools,” said Bill Taylor, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. “We need to do much, much more of this.”
Taylor retired as the president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz US in 2009. In retirement he works for the Economic Development Partnership.
He said most economic development and job growth comes from companies that already exist, and added that educators should also consider asking business leaders to tour schools.
During Tuesday’s visit, Georgia state Rep. Eddie Lumsden, a Republican from Armuchee, visited the school along with Tony Daniel, a professor of management at Shorter University in Rome, Ga., about an hour’s drive from Piedmont.
The visitors met with five honors students, Clemons and schools Superintendent Matt Akin to discuss new classroom techniques and whether students liked them.
Piedmont City Schools has been recognized for innovation using technology over the past five years. In 2009 the school system secured about $150,000 in federal money to help purchase 100 laptops and to train teachers how to use them for a pilot project.
The next year the Piedmont school board approved a four-year, $750,000 lease agreement to put laptop computers in the hands of every student in grades four through 12.
“Everybody wants to know about money, but there is not a magic funding source,” Akin said. “If you know what you want to do and you have some courage, you might leave some others behind.”
Since making the initial investment, the school system has qualified for and received more grant money to help enhance the program. Akin said the school system receives between $300,000 and $400,000 per year in grant funding.
The students talked with the guests about a program that allows them to occasionally skip their first-period classes and do the work from home. Students who maintain a B average get to continue working from home. If their grades start to slip, however, they have to go to class each day until their grades improve.
The aim is to improve learning by giving students more flexibility and enabling them to move on from a skill as soon as they master it, administrators say, or to give them more time to work on a topic they’re struggling to comprehend.
The visitors saw students at work in the vocational building, stopped in on a teacher who was using a laptop to review lessons with students and visited a class where groups of students were using a free website to learn to play guitar.
Lumsden said even though he lives across the state line, he thinks he could use the work being done in Piedmont schools if a business recruitment opportunity comes up.
“It’s critically important, more so than ever, that they are prepared, either to enter the workforce or to go on to college,” Lumsden said, referring to students.
In his first year at Piedmont, Clemons moved from Georgia, where he was an administrator. He knew the Georgia visitors from his work in Floyd County, Ga. He said economic development is a regional effort and noted that people sometimes cross state lines to go to work.
Akin said the visitors can help the school in another way.
“The more people that know about us, the more likely we’ll be connected to someone who can help us improve,” Akin said.
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.