Superintendents from public school districts across Mississippi are supporting efforts by C Spire to get more computer science education in classrooms for the state’s 877 elementary and high schools.

The superintendents gathered in Madison last week for a briefing on the latest developments of a grassroots campaign by the Mississippi-based diversified telecommunications and technology services that would require educators to offer computer science to all 465,000 students attending K-12 public schools. 

“Computer science is as important in today’s world as reading, math and science proficiency,” said Dr. Phillip G. Burchfield, executive director of the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents.  “It’s an integral part of our commitment and responsibility to prepare our students for the opportunities and challenges that they will face in a 21st century world that’s infused with technology.”

C Spire launched a comprehensive online, social media, TV and radio campaign earlier this month to encourage educators and public policy leaders to promote a stronger computer science foundation in the state. Despite strong support from parents and teachers, computer science is taught in less than half of the state’s high schools and there are more than 1,000 unfilled job openings in the state.

The legislation, SB 2284 by state Sen. Scott DeLano (R- Biloxi) and HB 1165 by Rep. Richard Bennett (R-Long Beach) is awaiting action by the education and appropriations policy committees in both houses.  The deadline for committee action on the two bills is today (Tuesday).

“We need computer science taught so all students have the knowledge, skills and abilities to successfully compete for the best jobs in the new digital economy,” said Rob Smith, director of the Ross Collins Career and Technical Center for the Meridian Public School District, which is partnering with C Spire on a pilot program that will help students land junior software developer jobs after only one year of community college.

C Spire representatives provided an update on the status of the legislation and noted that the company is working closely with lawmakers to advance a bill that will help make computer science available in all schools by the 2022-23 academic year. Some districts and schools have made progress and will not need to make changes while others will need to boost teacher training and update courses to the latest curriculum.

“We’re committed to helping all of our schools overcome any barriers that might stand in the way of offering computer science in classrooms,” said Carla Lewis, chief technology officer for C Spire and a leading proponent of the need for more computer science instruction. “We want this to work and that’s why we are pushing for a phased approach so that all schools have enough time to make this a reality.”

Mississippi students have made great strides in recent years, Lewis said. The state’s high school graduation rates have climbed dramatically and improvements in elementary school reading and math scores have led the nation. “We’ve become a national leader in pushing higher academic standards, but we need to continue to strive so that all of our students have the opportunity to pursue their uniquely personal hopes and dreams.”

Lewis said the Mississippi Department of Education and state’s 151 local school districts need to continue their efforts in advancing computer science if the state hopes to inspire and educate more students on the academic and career opportunities and advantages associated with science, technology, engineering and math-related studies.

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