Johnson City Press Thursday, July 24, 2014

Education

Local schools lacking in funds for technology

September 17th, 2011 11:49 pm by Gary B. Gray

Incoming freshmen at high schools around the country are entering classrooms with new school-issued iPads, each loaded with electronic textbooks and other online resources that slowly but surely are replacing traditional bulky books.
Johnson City Schools’ officials would like that to be the case here as well. But when it comes to technology, the most immediate needs are just that — needs. This includes the basics, such as tools for teachers including desktops, laptops and cameras that capture materials that can be projected onto screens, also known as smart boards.
And, it takes money to get those basic needs. That’s why Melony Surrett, the school system’s technology coordinator, recently met with the Board of Education’s Finance Committee to define technological priorities. These priorities came in the form of a three-tiered list that includes everything from desktops to laser printers to professional development so teachers can understand the tools they’re using.
Surrett said the total needs assessed would require about $2.4 million. The amount the committee felt comfortable with tackling at this stage: $500,000.
“We certainly have needs, and we’ve not been able to replace computers in certain places because of the budget,” Surrett said. “I think we have a big misunderstanding of what technology is. It’s not only a computer or a hand-held device — that’s what you see. But the other side of that is networking equipment, infrastructure. On that side we’re sound. We don’t have wireless at every site, but we’re working on it.”
Surrett said part of the issue is that some schools have up-to-date technology and others don’t. There also is differing dynamics regarding what technology teachers want or feel comfortable with. So to say whether the school system is ahead or behind the technological curve is hard to say.
“Basic needs are different at different schools, so those needs will be defined by each school,” she said. “The system does provide access to computers, whether it be in a computer lab, a classroom or on a mobile lap top. And I do feel the desktop still is the best production tool. They’re still good for writing and building data bases. But they are not necessarily the best presentation tool, or even when it comes to certain types of research.”
As the new technology begins to find its way into classrooms, some teachers won’t need any training. In fact, many of the younger teachers have grown up with it.
“We have some older teachers that take to it and some that resist, but this will not work if you don’t have teacher ‘buy in,’ ” she said. “I think some teachers don’t even realize how much technology we’re already using. I have no doubt the students will take to it.”
The $500,000 would help cover new desktops for many teachers, a tool Surrett still considers the best production tool available. The school system keeps grades online in grades six through 12. Attendance also is kept on desktops.
“Currently no students are provided iPads to use in class as a tool used daily, but there are some eBooks in use at Fairmont (Elementary School),” she said. “They can bring their own in, and sometimes they’re allowed to use them in class, depending on the teacher. They do have to put their cell phones in their backpacks. I actually want to move toward issuing every student an iPad, but I wouldn’t limit it to iPads. Students use these devices every day. I’m a big proponent for eBooks. I see them as a replacement for textbooks.”
Surrett classified eReaders as research tools that can be used, for example, to look up the definition of a word. She also is hoping to select a grade level at one of the schools and use it as a pilot program to see how using the devices throughout the day would work.
“I feel like we’re taking them out of their world when we don’t provide them with the latest technology,” she said.
Currently, only Mountain View and North Side elementary schools, the Alternative Center and the school system’s administration building are wireless.
“They are ‘security enabled,’ ” she said. “In other words, people can’t just walk in with their own iPads and have them work, but they can sign into the system.”
No wireless is being used at Science Hill High School, Indian Trail Middle School or Liberty Bell. But that is on Surrett’s wish list, though it is not an immediate priority. The hang up, as has been the case with funding for other school needs, is the $472,000 price tag. tools they’re using.
Surrett said the total needs assessed would require about $2.4 million. The amount the committee felt comfortable with tackling at this stage: $500,000.
“We certainly have needs, and we’ve not been able to replace computers in certain places because of the budget,” Surrett said. “I think we have a big misunderstanding of what technology is. It’s not only a computer or a hand-held device — that’s what you see. But the other side of that is networking equipment, infrastructure. On that side we’re sound. We don’t have wireless at every site, but we’re working on it.”
Surrett said part of the issue is that some schools have up-to-date technology and others don’t. There also is differing dynamics regarding what technology teachers want or feel comfortable with. So to say whether the school system is ahead or behind the technological curve is hard to say.
“Basic needs are different at different schools, so those needs will be defined by each school,” she said. “The system does provide access to computers, whether it be in a computer lab, a classroom or on a mobile lap top. And I do feel the desktop still is the best production tool. They’re still good for writing and building data bases. But they are not necessarily the best presentation tool, or even when it comes to certain types of research.”
As the new technology begins to find its way into classrooms, some teachers won’t need any training. In fact, many of the younger teachers have grown up with it.
“We have some older teachers that take to it and some that resist, but this will not work if you don’t have teacher ‘buy in,’ ” she said. “I think some teachers don’t even realize how much technology we’re already using. I have no doubt the students will take to it.”
The $500,000 would help cover new desktops for many teachers, a tool Surrett still considers the best production tool available. The school system keeps grades online in grades six through 12. Attendance also is kept on desktops.
“Currently no students are provided iPads to use in class as a tool used daily, but there are some eBooks in use at Fairmont (Elementary School),” she said. “They can bring their own in, and sometimes they’re allowed to use them in class, depending on the teacher. They do have to put their cell phones in their backpacks. I actually want to move toward issuing every student an iPad, but I wouldn’t limit it to iPads. Students use these devices every day. I’m a big proponent for eBooks. I see them as a replacement for textbooks.”
Surrett classified eReaders as research tools that can be used, for example, to look up the definition of a word. She also is hoping to select a grade level at one of the schools and use it as a pilot program to see how using the devices throughout the day would work.
“I feel like we’re taking them out of their world when we don’t provide them with the latest technology,” she said.
Currently, only Mountain View and North Side elementary schools, the Alternative Center and the school system’s administration building are wireless.
“They are ‘security enabled,’ ” she said. “In other words, people can’t just walk in with their own iPads and have them work, but they can sign into the system.”
No wireless is being used at Science Hill High School, Indian Trail Middle School or Liberty Bell. But that is on Surrett’s wish list, though it is not an immediate priority. The hang up, as has been the case with funding for other school needs, is the $472,000 price tag.

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