New $1.5M tech plan includes Chromebooks, iPads for students, updating phone and internet

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

One-to-one: Kelly Cordi, left, hands a Chromebook to incoming seventh-grader Alexis Smith at Farnsworth Middle School in Guilderland where each student was given a laptop this school year. Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s technology plan includes offering Chromebooks in grades six and seven, particularly in the special-education department.

BERNE — The Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board on Monday voted in favor of a $1.5 million three-year technology plan that includes introducing new devices for students and updating internet and phone networks in both the elementary and secondary schools.

All public school districts in New York State are required to submit instructional technology plans by Oct. 26 to remain eligible for aid for computers or other technology. Each plan must include a description of the technology to be used and how it will be used in teaching.

The three goals included in BKW’s plan are “access,” “21st Century learning,” and “community connections.”

Funding for items laid out in the plan would be E-Rate grants, Smart School grants, and BKW’s capital project, as well as other forms of aid.

The submission of the plan comes on the heels of the district’s technology integration specialist resigning last month. Lisa Cala Ruud, who had been hired in February, now serves as an associate principal in the Hudson City School District.

Superintendent Timothy Mundell said at Monday’s meeting that the Board of Cooperative Educational Services has provided a senior project manager in the technology department who is at the schools once a week, as a help-desk technician and a technician updating the school’s security system.

When asked by board member Randy Bashwinger about the cost of using the BOCES staff, Mundell said that the district has excess revenues of about $31,000 this year and would have about $46,000 next year, due to unfilled positions. Mundell said this extra money is being used to update the school’s phone system.

The plan includes upgrading or adding new hardware, such as replacing 25 laptops in the secondary-school library with updated desktops, starting a Chromebook pilot program in grades 6 and 7, and purchasing 36 iPads for use in kindergarten through second grade.

The plans also mention a one-to-one device initiative: each student having access to at least one piece of technology.

At Monday’s meeting, Mundell said that the “Chromebook initiative” will begin next week, with two carts, each holding 25 laptops, and will predominantly used by special-education students.

“That system of technology is pretty helpful for their organization,” he said.

He also said that 30 new iPads — devices with a screen and keyboard, larger than a phone but smaller than a laptop — are being rolled out in the district, with 10 at the secondary school and 20 at the elementary school.

The plan also updates the district’s internet server and network, as well as adding a second internet source. The district is to replace its wiring and design a new phone system through its $20 million capital project. Mundell said at Monday night’s meeting that the telephone system and a new server would be installed next month.

The plan also stresses using technology to notify and communicate, and suggests reviewing the district’s social-media policy.

To build “community connections,” the plan suggests reaching out to local businesses, universities, and other school districts. It also proposes adding a website for curriculum resources and “tech tutorials,” as well as a bimonthly newsletter on technology.

Other business

The board also:

— Heard from district resident Richard Umholtz that he and five others have written an open letter to Mundell (see related letter to the editor), asking the district to strive for academic excellence, particularly in vocational fields;

— Approved hiring over half-a-dozen new staff;

— Heard from school business Manager Stacy King-McElhiney that the school’s audit had been completed. Board President Matthew Tedeschi said that there will be a meeting on Oct. 9 to review the audit;

— Approved a revised school board handbook and its second reading of a policy on recruiting and hiring;

— Adopted goals and a vision statement, which Mundell said was created from past meetings by a group of 20 stakeholders;

— Approved a contract with Guercio and Guercio, LLP, to serve as the district’s attorney;

— Heard from Mundell that the building principals will each hold three “coffee and conversation” sessions and that the special-education department will host three information nights, with the first on Oct. 16; and

— Discussed parking for high school juniors. Mundell said about 20 seniors have signed up for parking, leaving 18 spots still open, and that he knew of about three juniors who are driving to school this year.

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