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'Walls To Windows' Initiative Now Closer To Reality

New wireless, hardware, faculty training set to improve in-class student experience.

Throughout the 2011-2012 school year, the Westfield Board of Education devoted significant time at its public meetings to hearing proposals and viewing presentations aimed at improving the district’s technology capabilities. Its Ad-Hoc Technology Committee met weekly to devise a plan and determine a way to bring it closer to fruition. Budget allotments and state funds were set aside for this objective.

As the new school year begins, students and faculty are already seeing the results of the district’s investment of time and money as the Board follows through with its goal of better preparing classrooms for the 21st century by turning walls into windows.  

“I’m amazed at where we’ve come in a year,” Board member Ginny Leiz said at Tuesday night’s BOE meeting.

Leiz spoke for the Board and perhaps the entire community when she expressed her amazement at the progress the district has made during the past 12 months. The objectives that existed on paper not too long ago have already begun to be put into practice, and the 2012-2013 classroom experience will already be able to feel the benefit.

Improvements in infrastructure and hardware were particularly significant during the past few months, according to a presentation Tuesday night by Assistant Superintendent Paul Pineiro. Over the summer, a new wireless network was installed in all schools, allowing instant access anywhere in the buildings. Internet connection also improved from 50 mb to 100 mb.

“Information is power,” Pineiro said. “All of this is really about the students and our mission for them.”

The district was also able to purchase 360 iPads, 156 ultabooks (mostly laptops) and 97 desktop computers that are ready and able for use this year. Additionally, 395 multi-seat computers were installed in classrooms.

“I think this will be a tremendous learning experience and a great year for our kids,” said Board member Mitch Slater, who chairs the Ad-Hoc Technology Committee.

The district has added staff members to ensure new technological devices are used effectively. Two master technology teachers will provide new instructions for technical staff and coach teachers to enhance instruction through the devices and applications available to them. An information processing manager will provide data analysis, maintain a district student database and oversee the NJ SMART data uploading.  

Faculty and staff have already begun to receive training in this field. At the August 30 in-service, more than 325 staff members were trained in 48 instructional sessions relating to meeting the standards for a  21st century classroom. Experts in the field were on-hand to advise teachers how to use what is available to them now as well as how to adapt to future improvements. Pineiro stressed that the training was not merely a one-shot deal, but is only part of an ongoing process.

Members of the public in attendance Tuesday generally expressed excitement for the information revealed in Pineiro’s presentation.

“The plans sounded great and the implementation sounds even more wonderful,” said resident and former Board member Gary McCready. He suggested the Board explore the option of purchasing books on Kindle at a discounted group rate and also suggested an electronic update policy that would encourage more up-to-date teacher websites.

One resident suggested that the district limit its purchases of devices since a majority of students likely already possess a smartphone or laptop. But another resident pointed out that some students do not have such easy and constant access and asked the Board to be cognizant of the fact that such students would only have such easy access to those capabilities while in the classroom. Board members noted that, while they acknowledge that most students probably have such technology in the home, not all students do, and being equitable is a key component to its plans moving forward.

Jessie Wormer September 13, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Really exciting....Lucky kids to be benefiting from all of this. Very impressive work by Board of Education and Administration to be so forward looking.
KS September 14, 2012 at 05:18 PM
I served on the Westfield Schools technology committee in the late 90's and early 2000's. We set a number of benchmarks for the district which the board applauded at the time--real accountability and measurable. Many have still not been reached. The Principal of Union Catholic High School had in one year ( prior to our benchmarks)--completely made her school wireless and integrated laptops into the curriculum. Every teacher and counselor (several were nuns in their 80's) were on board and using technology. All homework assignments were available online and could be submitted via e-mail in 2001 there--we still don't have that in Westfield, for instance. Schools, not Westfield, from the area visited to see how it was done. That's real leadership. Sorry just not impressed at all.
Mitch Slater September 14, 2012 at 07:49 PM
KS- Please reach out to me and our BOE Ad-Hoc Technology Committee to let us know what you think we are missing. I applaud the leadership of our District Leadership for the hard work they are doing today to move forward. It is ashame that your committee a decade ago was unable to see the then "state of the art" tech put in place at that time. I trust we are both on the same side here and want the best technology available for our students and teachers.
KS September 15, 2012 at 03:31 PM
I never thought the committee missed anything. They were hardworking impressive group. My issue was the leadership in the administration. Given the community, student and teachers why is our progress been so slow. In my experience it is a lack of leadership from the top. That is the difference I saw between Westfield and Union Catholic implementation. I will reach out to you Mitch.  
Gary McCready September 16, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Back then (yes, I was part of that committee too ) there were a number of accomplishments - but also a number of other district-wide priorities as well. And it is of course always easier to do a single-school implementation, especially when you are not as hampered by having to raise funds by public budget vote or state spending limitations. I would also applaud Union Catholic if they did implement wireless in the early 2000's - it certainly was not widespread for schools then. But we can certainly do more with what we already have now - teachers posting homework on-line would be great but I would be happy with simply seeing first-day handouts that define a teacher's class expectations and a curriculum outline for all of my kid's classes. Getting nice hardware refreshes is good as long as budget line can continue in future years (did not happen in the past). And there are lots of ways to better connect with parents, everything from online payments, online first-day forms submission and even online volunteer signups. These are just a few of a lot of ideas that are out there and implemented by other districts already - hopefully our ideas can be captured somehow, and for those who can't attend a technology committee meeting, perhaps an online (moderated!) forum to discuss?

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