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.