2011-01-13 / News

School panel hears about technology upgrade at Lawn, Melrose

By Geoff Campbell

The Jamestown School Committee sandwiched a highly detailed technology update in between bookend executive sessions at the Jan. 6 meeting.

Following the unanimous approval of a Home School Request and the tabling of the North Kingstown Tuition Contract, Superintendent Marcia Lukon introduced new technology director, Samira Hakki.

Hakki conducted a fact-packed workshop and reported on the progress that has been made in achieving “Goal 3: Improve teaching learning, and district efficiency through the use of technology,” in the Jamestown Schools’ 2009- 2014 Strategic Plan.

Goal 3 is broken into four objectives: Re-evaluate and determine technology needs based on the goals of the strategic plan and the district’s commitment to meet the needs of the learners; develop a long term capital plan for technology maintenance, improvement and standardization; provide guidance to oversee the successful use and integration of technology; use technology to support teaching and learning.

Hakki first described the state of technology in the schools, as it existed last spring. The relatively sparse hardware count, both in terms of the schools’ labs and inroom availability, would eventually stand in stark contrast to what has been purchased, installed, and made regular use of in the last six months.

The capital plan, as Hakki explained it, would create computer centers in each of the Melrose School classrooms, provide the infrastructure necessary to support the additional computer centers, and fill in the wireless-coverage gaps in the Lawn Avenue School.

Additionally, the plan supported new laptops for one-third of the professional staff, three additional interactive whiteboards in Lawn Avenue and one in Melrose, a set of immediate response remotes for the fifth grade, four document cameras for Lawn Avenue and a new technology-based learning support classroom in Melrose.

Hakki also described what has actually been accomplished from a district-wide perspective. Supported by significant infrastructure upgrades, 19 classroom computer centers were created at the Melrose Avenue School. The Learning Support Classroom, the site of the presentation, was completed as well, including the installation of an interactive whiteboard and full audio/video capabilities.

At Lawn Avenue, the wireless coverage was made complete and other infrastructure upgrades allowed for the installation of eight interactive whiteboards. Now, Hakki said, each of the grade classrooms hosted one.

An immediate response remote system that allows teachers to gain immediate anonymous feedback indicating whether or not a teacher is reaching students was purchased for the fifth grade. Lukon described the system as “a great way to monitor teaching” and said that it was “easy to use and immediate.”

Four classrooms in Lawn Avenue also received computer-center hardware, including five document cameras and seven Apple iMacs.

Questions regarding dual platforms (PCs and Macs) were answered, in part by Hakki, who explained the graphic-specific purposes of the iMacs would be used for robotics, animation and film editing. Committee member Dana Long said that exposure to both platforms can only add value to the program.

Hakki also updated the committee on new software acquisitions, which will allow students to study science and social studies using online materials. Additional improvements still in the plan included a mobile lab for the sixth grade, and a new student information system.

Superintendent Lukon explained that Rhode Island’s commitment to standards based grading requires a change in the records software. She added that by joining North Kingstown High School in purchasing the system, the school departments would save money and simplify data sharing as students move between districts.

Hakki and Lukon briefly discussed the funding for the improvements, and said some of the money came from the Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science program, NASA allocation, and the federal stimulus funding that resulted from Rhode Island schools being awarded Race to the Top grants.

Hakki finished her presentation by offering thoughts regarding next steps. She said that issues on the table include increasing bandwidth to keep up with use, managing the expansion of online assessments, and if and how mobile devices will become a part of student technology.

Mary Jo Diem of the Jamestown Taxpayers’ Association asked how curriculum reform will incorporate the changes in technology for the two schools and how Jamestown schools can insure that North Kingstown will build on the progress made in Jamestown.

Both Hakki and Lukon said that change in technology can support curriculum reform and that they are interrelated.

Committee member B.J. Whitehouse was brief in his response to the second question saying that North Kingstown’s approach to technology is out of their control and committee member Julia Held was quick to add that if North Kingstown were to lag, the students would be aware and in turn their parents would also.

The school committee and Lukon voiced their appreciation for Hakki’s thorough presentation and for the work that she and her team have been able to accomplish.

The next school committee meeting will be held tonight at the Melrose School at 7 p.m.

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