Outdated technology, 'wish list' dominate budget talks
As budget discussions continue, Jamestown schools' outdated technology took center stage at last week's school committee meeting.
Superintendent Marcia Lukon has described the computers at both Lawn Avenue and Melrose Avenue Schools as "archaic." "We can't open many of the e-mail attachments that we receive. We then have to e-mail back and ask them to re-send it because our computers are not compatible. It takes up a lot of time," Lukon said.
A number of Jamestown teachers were in attendance and supported Lukon's assertion that the computers are so old that they are no longer very useful. Sixth grade math teacher Cynthia Cherney concurred with Lukon regarding Lawn Avenue School's computers. "The computers are archaic. Nothing is compatible. The kids often work at home and bring their work in on a stick or e-mail it to school and we can't open it because the computers at school are incompatible," she said.
Principals Kathy Almanzor and Carole Melucci presented a "wish list" to the school committee that included updating the mobile and stationary computer labs, outfitting individual classrooms with three working computers, purchasing SMART tables and purchasing additional SMART boards.
Committee member Julia Held inquired as to why both a mobile and a stationary lab are needed in addition to in-class computers. Almanzor explained that each of these serve different needs. "Sometimes only one or two children need to use the computer and there is no reason to bring the entire class to the lab or have the mobile lab brought in," she said. She also explained why there is a need to have both a mobile and a stationary lab. "The mobile lab can be used when a class is doing a project that requires sustained attention, reading or research. In that case, the mobile lab can be left in the classroom and used over the course of days. The stationary lab, on the other hand, can be used for whole class activities that do not require sustained use." Sixth grade language arts teacher Jenn Kittredge-Clark emphasized the need for more than one computer lab. "The mobile lab can be used one day after another when it is signed out. With the stationary lab we can then have two full classes using computers at the same time," she said. Almanzor, then pointed out that, "There is not much down time in our computer labs. More and more classroom work is being done on computers," she said.
Questions also arose about the need for additional SMART boards and for the introduction of SMART tables in the elementary school. Committee member B.J. Whitehouse questioned whether or not the boards would be used enough to justify the cost. "Do we have a definite commitment from the teachers to invest in training?" Whitehouse asked. Almanzor responded by saying Lawn Avenue math teacher Nick Alfred, who has been using the SMART board for some time, has agreed to be trained as a trainer and that the teachers are definitely on board with using this new technology. Whitehouse also questioned the need to purchase more than one SMART table at a time. "I am not aware of what these are or how they are to be used and they are very high ticket items. For $7,000 a table, this better be one heck of a learning tool," Whitehouse said.
Melucci responded, "The reason the cost is so high is because we are supplying six classrooms." Both Almanzor and Melucci pointed out that the list they supplied is, indeed, a "wish list," and that they would be very comfortable with having some of the more immediate technological needs addressed and having others deferred until next year. Whitehouse suggested that a gradual introduction of the SMART tables, similar to how the SMART board was introduced, one at a time, would do much to increase his comfort level in approving such a costly expenditure.
After everyone was given an opportunity to speak about these and any other budget concerns, the school committee voted to approve the fiscal year 2010 budget as submitted by Lukon. The budget was presented to the Town Council at their Tuesday meeting.
In other business:
• Committee Chairperson Cathy Kaiser reported a 4-0 vote during executive session to approve the superintendent's recommendation to suspend a teacher for six days and issue a final written warning.
• The first reading of policy on the Elizabeth Stone Scholarship Fund was heard. Committee members reviewed the policy and suggested several changes. The second reading will be heard at the March 12 workshop meeting.
• The food service update continued to note significant declines in food sales. The food subcommittee will meet prior to the March 12 meeting to discuss the status of the program.
• Almanzor reported the news that the Rhode Island Music Educators Association (RIMEA) has selected an original composition by Jamestown eighth grader John Ragland to be performed at an upcoming annual conference. Fellow grade 8 student Sam Hollister will be performing the piece at the conference.