Nancy Latimer and Jeanine Gottko, Westfield school district master technology teachers, provided the Westfield Board of Education with an update on how they are serving teachers and students during Tuesday night's meeting.
A tech initiative that began three years ago was rolled out to the high school, to both intermediate schools and to all six elementary schools in September. The district is now equipped with 360 new iPads -- 30 per mobile cart -- spread across the district; 156 new ultrabooks (slimmed-down laptops), also on carts, for grades 9-12; 37 new desktops for the high school library; 30 new desktops for each of the new Roosevelt and Edison Tech Labs and, for grades one through three, 395 multi-seat computers.
Tying it all together is a faster internet connection (50 to 100MB/s), and a completely new wireless network, based on the college-campus model (also known as Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD) whereby – security permitting -- anyone can access the net from anywhere in the district with any device.
But how do teachers and students make the most of this new technology? That's were Latimer and Gottko come in.
Latimer, who offers instruction and support for intermediate and high school teachers and students, began the presentation by introducing her website, which she said serves as a point of contact for teachers if they'd like to ask for help, ask a question or fill out a form letting her know when they're available for one-on-one instruction.
The tech specialists explained that in the four months since they began in their roles, they have attended faculty meetings to introduce themselves, met with principals and vice-principals, and sent emails to let teachers and administrators know why they're there and how they can help. They also sent surveys asking how much teachers know about technology, what they'd like to learn and when they're available for instruction.
During lunch or other periods, Latimer hosts "Tech Talks," basing her topics on the surveys' results, and also offers professional development to teachers after school, something she said she's been finding works "really well."
Gottko, who serves the elementary schools, discussed her blog which she said serves as a resource for teachers who might be unable to attend the professional development training. On the site, which is updated almost daily, Gottko offers information about free apps and other tools teachers can use to engage students while making the most of the district's technology. The site also directs teachers to other instructors' blogs to give them an idea of how technology is utilized in other classrooms.
Latimer and Gottko said they have also been in the classroom teaching right alongside teachers who may initially feel overwhelmed at the thought of teaching a lesson on an iPad in a class setting.
Board president Rich Mattessich asked the teachers how far Westfield has come in embracing technology as a district and how do they know if they're continuing in the right direction.
Latimer said she feels Westfield "still has a ways to go" but Gottko said this year "has been a huge leap."
"The fact that you also put us in as support is a key point," said Gottko, who added that teachers have told her if they had simply been given the tools without the guidance on how to make the most of them they might not be using them as much.
Gottko said she is seeing increased enrollment in her professional development classes but noted "there is still so much more we need to do as a district."
In terms of purchasing additional equipment, Latimer said there isn't necessarily one tool that is the best.
"Sometimes it's great to have the Macs in the Fine Arts; a different tool for the job," Latimer said. "Sometimes teachers feel they have to use the iPads because we have the iPads. Don't try to bend the technology. It should work for you. Then you're just using technology for technology's sake and that's not what we want to do."
Board member Gretchan Ohlig thanked the teachers for being a "wonderful resource" for both teachers and students. Because Latimer and Gottko were placed in their current roles for one year, Ohlig asked if there needed to be a conversation to address having these teachers in place on a long-term basis.
Superintendent of schools Dr. Margaret Dolan said as part of the budget process as decision will need to be made about extending their roles as master technology teachers and said it was good to hear the teachers' presentation to be better informed going into that process.
Board member Mark Friedman asked the teachers if they could quantify the percentage of teachers who are seeking out their support. Gottko said it varies by building but generalizing, said she has been in approximately 50 percent of classrooms throughout the district and has reached 75 percent of teachers through professional development or one-on-one instruction.
Latimer said interest in the high school has been "huge" but is just now hitting her stride in the intermediate schools.
"I've hit a good number of people but I think I struggle with 'how do we reach those non-tech people?'" said Latimer.
Gottko said sending emails and directing people to her blog has been helpful in spreading the word. Assistant Superintendent Paul Pineiro said the teachers are covering a lot of ground but added that ongoing efforts are being made to reach everyone in the district.
*Richard Vaughn provided previously-ran reporting used in this story.