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Technology upgrades on the table

Three-year plan calls for adding $30,000-plus to the budget in coming years

The School Board discusses a new three-year technology plan.

The School Board discusses a new three-year technology plan. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

WILTON — The district has recently developed a plan to bring the district up to speed with technology, but at a cost that may be too steep, some School Board members said during a board meeting Tuesday. The plan, which spans three years, would include raising the technology budget for the district by more than $30,000 in each of the next two years. Having approved the plan in theory, the School Board says more details are needed.

Shirley Schneider, co-chair of the Technology Committee and a math teacher at Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative Middle and High School, told the board that currently availability for technology-based projects and assessments is limited because of high competition for use of the computer labs. Currently, there is one computer lab at Florence Rideout Elementary School with 20 computers, one at Lyndeborough Central with 10 computers, and each school has a laptop cart with 15 Macbooks. The middle and high school levels each have access to a computer lab with 20 computers each, a laptop cart at the middle school with 15 laptops, and an additional 14 computers in the library.

As part of the plan, the committee proposed using 2014-15 as a planning and preparation year to improve the district infrastructure and provide professional development to help teachers better integrate technology into their lessons. In the first year, the committee proposed a limited hardware roll-out, including two laptop carts for the fifth grade, and replacing the current computer lab at Florence Rideout Elementary School and in the high school lab.

The committee would like to see a more intensive increase in technology purchases in the following year, in 2015-16, including laptop carts for third and fourth grades, three laptop carts for the math, English and social studies departments, and a mobile lab of tablet-based systems for the Unified Arts Department.

The committee would also use that second year to gather data about how the teachers are using the technology and how often they are integrating it into their lessons. Based on that data, in 2016-17 the committee will determine whether new or different systems are warranted.

These improvements would come at a cost, however. The current approved budget for technology, which will cover the plan for the upcoming school year is $222,470. That would increase to $250,902 in the 2015-16 school year and to $255,412 in the 2016-17 year, if the district approves the plan and technology roll-out.

Technology and curriculum: Which drives the other?

School Board member Fran Bujak expressed concern that the district might not have the resources to support such an aggressive approach to integrating technology, in the financial sense. School Board Vice-Chair Harry Dailey agreed, saying, “We’ve discussed technology for technology’s sake a lot in the past, and it sounds great, but then reality hit. I want to know better how they’ll be integrated into the classroom. If there’s a laptop sitting on a desk for four hours a day, that’s a huge waste of money.”

Dailey said he would prefer to see the committee come forward with a solid plan for how technology would be integrated into the curriculum for specific classes, before the district spends the funds.

“I’d be the first to charge up that hill,” said Dailey about technology integration. “But we need the ammunition. Give us that, and I’ll lead the charge. I just need bullets in the gun.”

School Board member Jim Button, however, feels that the schools should be at the forefront of technology, and not lagging behind. “For kids to have apps that they learn things from, and then come to school and not have access to the same technology is a waste,” he said.

Tim O’Connell, principal of the district’s elementary schools, said he has no doubt that the technology would get used if it was available. “My staff and students are ripe to have technology at their fingertips, and it’s not there,” he said. “They know how engaging it is for students. This is the way of modern education. If you walk into a modern classroom, you don’t see kids with a book, you see them with a laptop.”

Bujak said he would like to see more information about how the technology would be used in curriculum, and a list of priorities to put before the Budget Committee and voters.

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