Promethean boards at BKW ignite learning, teacher says

Bill Dergosits runs his fingers over a Promethean board

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Bill Dergosits runs his fingers over a Promethean board, creating a doodle, to show Berne-Knox-Westerlo junior Kara Sherwin how it works.

BERNE — In Greek mythology, Prometheus, one of the Titan giants, defied Zeus to bring fire to humankind.

A tech company has used that name for an interactive white board that Berne-Knox-Westerlo educators say are firing up students.

Excitement was palpable as third-grade teacher Bill Dergosits showed BKW School Board members a Promethean board at their meeting on Sept. 23.

“They can just use their fingers, up to 20 at a time,” Dergosits said as he demonstrated the interactive board for BKW junior Kara Sherwin before the meeting began.

“There’s a switch so you can bring it down to their level,” he said.

Soon, every classroom in BKW’s secondary school will have a Promethean board, and eventually, as each phase of construction at the elementary school is completed, each classroom there will have one, too.

Both schools are in the midst of being upgraded as part of a $20 million capital project (see related story).

“Eventually, each student will have a device,” said Dergosits, that will allow the Promethean board not just to be drawn on but to be interactive — controlled through a computer.

Sherwin said that currently Chromebooks — simple laptops — are used by high school students, so that they no longer hand in assignments on paper for a teacher to review or grade. Rather, using a free web service, Google Classroom, files are shared between students and teachers, and students can work collaboratively with each other and interact with their teachers — all without paper.

“It’s way easier,” said Sherwin. “It goes right to your teacher.”

Dergosits was among the staff members who reviewed products, similar to the Promethean board, from Dell and SMART Board. “They weren’t even in the same category,” he said.

Promethean was founded in 1996 in Lancashire, England by Tony Cann and is now held by NetDragon Websoft, a Chinese video-game company.

BKW Superintendent Timothy Mundell said the Promethean boards “would never be obsolete.” He said he had initially anticipated having to replace them every 10 years but recently learned  that they can be updated as technology changes.

Dergosits called the Promethean board “a phenomenal tool” that can communicate seamlessly with students throughout the day.

The boards, he said, are made of “Gorilla Glass,” which won’t scratch. Students can write on them with their fingers or with a stylus that costs just a dollar, he said. The board can be erased with the palm of the hand.

In math class that day, Dergosits said, his third-grade students were eager to come to the board to show their work, on a screen that can be split. Teachers, when each student has a device, can get live feedback throughout the class. 

“I can record what I’m teaching,” said Dergosits, so students who are absent can catch up with missed work. Also, if students are out of school on sick leave, he said, they can participate, through their devices, from home.

Dergosits demonstrated this feature by having school board members log on with their devices, and he also had several colleagues who were in their far-flung homes participate.

As Dergosits illustrated a lesson on kindness, one colleague, participating from her home in Guilderland, wrote in, “Kindness is staying up past my bedtime to help Mr. D. with his awesome presentation.”

Her words appeared on the Promethean board in the high school cafeteria, miles away, where the school board met.

Dergosits also demonstrated how a workbook could be projected onto the screen. “We’re allowed to manipulate anything in the digital world,” he said. “When I turn a page, they’ll turn a page,” he said of his students.

The teacher can control what students look at. “No more days of kids moving ahead,” he said. Also, Dergosits said, “It allows me to reach out to the kids who might be a little shyer.”

Dergosits stressed that the board is “a tool, not a toy.”

He went on, “The kids absolutely love it. They want to dive into the lesson.”

Board member Matthew Tedeschi asked how receptive teachers were to using the boards. 

“Everybody’s very excited,” Dergosits said, adding, with a smile, that some teachers were “a little jealous it’s in my room.” The board was in his classroom for just a few days, for demonstration purposes.

He also said, “If you have a smartphone, you can use it.”

Mundell said that the purchase package included four days of on-site training for staff and that webinars are available any time.

More training, he said, would be available at a cost.

Dergosits noted that training might be valuable a year out, once teachers have learned the basics of what to do with the boards and want to go beyond that.

“The kids will show you how to use it,” said board member Randy Bashwinger.



The board voted unanimously to give tenure to elementary school teacher Sarah Evers, and to secondary Spanish teacher Jane Tedesco.

Mundell said that Evers was an asset who “brings a great wealth of knowledge” for curriculum work.

He said Tedesco teaches students to use language in a practical way, and had formed innovative partnerships with neighboring districts.

Mundel also noted that these are the first two BKW teachers to receive tenure, or lifetime appointments, under the state’s new tenure regulations.

New requirements began with New York teachers appointed on or after July 1, 2015. The probationary period was extended from three to four years for untenured teachers. A teacher seeking tenure needs to attain an “effective” or “highly effective” rating for at least three of the four years.

“It’s a big deal,” said Tedeschi. “We’re celebrating … people’s careers and accomplishments.”

Tedeschi also said, “The teachers’ association should be here.”


Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard praise from Mundell for the “smooth opening” of school. He lauded parents, students, and staff — especially custodial staff. “Considering the construction going on, it was a very smooth opening,” he said; 

— Heard from School Business Executive Terrence Blanchfield that applications for federal funds had been completed, and that, roughly, Title 1 funds had decreased from $106,000 last year to $90,400 this year while Title 2 funds had decreased from $26,600 to $20,000;

— Heard from Blanchfield that the district is putting in a claim because of a July 23 power shortage in the district office on which $11,000 has already been spent;

— Heard from Mundell there was an incident on June 28 when pavement in front of the high school was being milled; milling equipment tipped over and “a spotter didn’t get there quick enough,” Mundell said. The equipment was not damaged and no one was hurt, he said.

“We certainly want to have a safe workplace,” Mundell said, noting that a second spotter has been added;

— Heard from Helen Lounsbury, a former school board member and retired BKW teacher, who said she was “following up on a few of my personal loose ends.” She’d like to see accolade winners posted and the “Where They Are Now” feature, reporting on BKW graduates,” restored to the district’s website;

— Unanimously adopted three board goals: to build relationships across the community, to expand collective knowledge of board roles and responsibilities, and to formalize the policy and procedure process.

As part of the first goal, the board established a legislative committee to create a mission and a structure of bylaws. Tedeschi and Bashwinger were appointed to the committee;

— Heard from board President Nathan Elble that on Aug. 29, the Focus Committee walked through the high school and saw “a lot” of work had to be completed before the start of school; safety, security, and lighting were prioritized.

“When we were here Tuesday morning … it was a complete transformation,” Elble said.

The annual health-and-safety walk-through was also completed, he said, stating, “I gave a clean bill of health to go forward”; and

— Heard that members of BKW future Farmers of America won $400 for coming in second at a state competition.

At the end of October, 10 members of the FFA will be traveling to a national convention in Indianapolis. The district is footing the bill for travel expenses, at $150 each, which is being shared with the Schoharie FFA. Students will be paying for their own accommodations.

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