Margaret Murray

School Committee Hears Tech Recommendations

Margaret Murray

Margaret Murray

For a list of all the portions of the meeting, click here.

A full video of the meeting is available at westfordcat.org

7:53 p.m. – Julie Elkin, director of digital learning, was introduced to start a review of the School Department’s instructional technology review.

Elkin began by saying the review was taken in January and February this year, thanking those involved in the efforts and providing an overview on the study.

322 teachers took part in the survey, over 1,000 parents took part and 29 teachers took part in focus groups.

It was found that there is not a clear vision on technology’s role for learning currently, and that technology is often not available on a regular basis.

Teacher and parents also said that the technological experience varies from year to year.

Elkin said that the most requested topic for professional development is developing online learning for students and bandwidth isn’t acceptable currently.

The first recommendation according to Elkin was developing a clear vision for digital learning, followed by upgrading networking structure, establishing equity in infrastructure among grades as well as providing more devices.

Elkin then gave more information on the recommendations from the study, including how to implement the recommendations, focusing on the next three years and hopefully beginning implementation of the plan on October 1 or earlier.

8:07 p.m. – Keele asked which sets of parents participated in the survey, with Elkin saying she could return with that data.

Keele then asked about the key four recommendations, particularly developing a clear vision for digital learning, asking what Elkin’s hard recommendation would be for the School Committee regarding a clear vision.

Elkin said work has begun toward developing that hard recommendation with herself and several others.

Assistant superintendent Christine Francis, who is one person that has been working with Elkin, elaborated, specifically noting that any vision must be concise.

Keele also asked how the newer buildings compare to older schools, with Elkin saying the age of each building has held no bearing on its technological abilities, with Elkin saying the main factor has been fundraising efforts by each school.

School Committee member Tom Clay thanked Elkin for her efforts and asked additional questions on implementation of the plan regarding how much it would cost.

Olsen said that a placeholder figure could be put into the school’s capital budget.

Clay said he wanted more information as it becomes available.

Benoit said that the plan requires more funding outside of the capital budget since there’s been no plan to sustain technology in schools, adding that current technology will be obsolete in three years. Keele followed up asking if that necessitated “bring your own device” policies, with additional discussion ensuing on that point.

Olsen elaborated on that point giving the Blanchard library’s former darkroom and its evolution as an example.

Benoit then noted that students should play a role in teaching staff about technology.

The discussion then went to Kohl, who appreciated the indicators discussed on the plan, but said she was concerned about the slow pace of the plan’s implementation. She also hoped that the School District can make good use of resources already in place before adding additional training.

Elkin said any additional analysis must come from real data and that the instruction has already begun, asking Westford town technology director Mike Wells to share additional information on recent efforts that have been made.

Wells went over a variety of topics, emphasizing that the key focus of the policy should be the impact of technology in the classroom rather than what might be available or trendy.

Elkin then discussed a handwriting program already being used and that a new typing program may be implemented in July to compliment the handwriting program, although there would be no rush into the decision.

Francis then elaborated on the use of current computers in the schools as well as policies between laptop versus desktop usage in classrooms.

Elkin added that teachers can only use certain computers for six days a month due to demand.

School Committee member Angela Harkness apologized to Elkin for any possible frustration on behalf of the committee, but said that a clear vision has been needed for a long time and that staff members need to know what the vision will be.

Ryan echoed Harkness’ hope to begin the plan quickly and was pleased some updates will come soon, asking if fundraising might be needed.

Elkin said that fundraising is great, but that that technology is much like a utility bill and it should be in an operating budget.

Keele then obtained quick final comments from Clay, Benoit and Kohl, thanking Elkin for her time and urging a clearer plan.