Plan would cost $8M over next five years, details yet to be decided
The Bethlehem Central School District has been introducing technology in the classroom for years now, with even young children being exposed to laptops, the Internet and online collaboration like class wiki pages.
But now, a much more expansive program is being pitched, one with a goal of issuing a personal computing device to every high schooler and greatly expanding laptop access to lower grades.
Though the details have yet to be decided upon, the district estimates such a endeavor would cost $8 million to accomplish in the next five years, a sum that would borrowed and need voted approval. Superintendent Michael Tebbano allowed this could be a hard sell, but said he hopes the community will see the value of providing current technology to students [preparing] for a global future.
`I’d hate to be a school district that hides under a rock waiting for this economic crisis to go away,` he said. `If we don’t go forward with this this year, when will we do it?`
If the plan is approved in May, the district would next school year start expanding its stock of laptops available to 5th graders, so that in a few years there would be enough for all classes to provide every student with a laptop from computer carts that would rotate between classrooms. Laptops would also be introduced to 8th grade classes and work their way into 7th and 6th grade as time goes on.
Also next year, 100 select students in grades 9 and 10 would receive computing devices. Their experiences would be integral in expanding the program little by little until the 2013-14 school year, when every 9th grader would be issued a device.
By the 2015-16 school year, laptops would be in the hands of every middle schooler in the classroom, and all high schoolers would have a computing device they’d be free to take home. It’s possible high schoolers would do more `cloud` computing, with their device providing a terminal to BC’s servers, where their work resides. That could offer greater control to staff, too.
District Director of Technology Sal DeAngelo said there does exist the possibility for distraction and misuse of the devices, but added under the type of system the school hopes to implement, teachers would be able to monitor every student’s device while in the classroom. They could then pull that image up for the whole class to discuss should a student, say, find a pertinent piece of information on the Internet.
In this way, the classroom could become a more interactive environment.
`This does not replace good instruction in the classroom…it’s just that the paradigm of [teachers’] role is changing,` DeAngelo said. `Gone are the days when the teacher is the keeper of knowledge.`
Expanding to a `1:1 computing` program has long been a district goal, DeAngelo said, and it is one that was studied by the district’s 21st Century Committee. Other area schools, including Niskayuna, Schenectady, Watervliet and Albany, are moving towards such a standard.
The borrowed money would cover the cost of the computers, but a full-time job in the technology department eliminated this year would have to be reinstated, with another being added later. With decreasing state aid and ballooning health and pension costs, the district has cut money from its budget in the last few years even while taxes rise.
`We’ve never had a good budget year,` said Tebbano, who has been superintendent since 2008. `When other school districts around the area are achieving this through similar means, I think it probably stands to reason we have to get our kids ready for the future.`