Northern New York Schools Plan How to Spend Tech Bond Money

Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved $103.2 million for 136 New York school districts, 10 of which are in the north country.

by Miranda Materazzo, Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. / July 25, 2017 0
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(TNS) — Schools across Northern New York and around the state will soon be getting long-awaited tech upgrades, including better security systems and new classroom technology. The money, totaling $103.2 million, was approved by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office on Friday.

One hundred thirty-six school districts in New York, 10 of which are in the north country, were awarded Smart Schools Investment Bonds.

Districts had to submit plans to the governor's office and be approved. They will be reimbursed for their costs up to what was projected in their plans.

Most local districts are planning major upgrades to their classroom technology, including the Carthage Central School District in Jefferson County. The district was allotted $3,157,855 from the state for new classroom technology.

The district's instructional technology director, Ramona Dent, said that the new Chromebooks and laptops will expose students to the kinds of technology they might someday work with.

"We really want to make sure kids have the right tools when they leave school. There's so much new technology being developed, and we want to make sure students can be engaged and creative with it," Mrs. Dent said.

The school had implemented a "bring your own device" plan for middle- and high-school students in 2014, but Mrs. Dent said she hopes the new modified one-to-one device program will "assure every student has equal access." A modified one-to-one plan would mean that students have their own personal laptops or Chromebooks at school, but they are not allowed to bring the devices home.

Mrs. Dent said the district has not ruled out allowing students to bring their devices home, but is primarily focused now on "making sure students and staff are comfortable with the new technology." The Carthage Central School District hopes to implement the device-lending program first for middle- and high-schoolers, and elementary students by next summer.

Potsdam Central School is also anticipating major technology upgrades, and plans to use most of its approved $1,083,106 to update their supply of laptops, Chromebooks, and iPads.

Technology Committee Director and High School Principal Mark R. Bennett said that his district will use the state money alongside local funding over the course of several years.

"We're trying to avoid purchasing all this new equipment at once so we can have a rotational supply, and replace a small number every few years," Mr. Bennett said. Potsdam Central School District will also allow older students to take school-assigned devices home beginning in September.

Mr. Bennett said he believes the one-to-one device program allows learning to happen outside the classroom, because it requires students to be more analytical in their use of online sources at home.

"The students now have all these answers and resources available to them, and that means they've really got to think critically and reflect about how to use them, and which ones to use," he said.

The South Lewis Central School District is hoping to finally fulfill their one-to-one device initiative with the help of Smart Schools money. They had already been reimbursed for "about $300,000" of the $1,188,122 total allotted for technology improvements there.

South Lewis students can expect new SmartBoards in every classroom and other changes, according to Business Administrator Barry J. Yette.

"We'll now be able to assign every student a Chromebook or iPad, and we'll be supplementing the one-to-one device program with laptop carts in each classroom," Mr. Yette said.

Mr. Yette said he was excited about the tech upgrades because "it really helps level the playing field for students in more rural schools. They get to have the same technology as students in more urban or affluent districts."

The Altmar-Parish-Williamstown School District in Oswego County will be using its most of its approved $1,268,129 on technology as well, though not with the goal of implementing a one-to-one device program.

The district's instructional technology director, James E. Heffron, said that the money will be used at A.P.W. to "make more devices available to kids on a regular basis" and "be ready for computer-based testing."

Mr. Heffron, who is also the district's Director of Evaluation and Discipline, said that one-to-one device programs can be "hard to sustain."

He said the district will instead invest in iPad and laptop carts and updates to computer lab desktops, and in adaptive technology for special education students and the district's robotics program, an extracurricular with classroom elements.

"We'll have kits and tools to help students make parts for their robots and improve them." The district uses computer-aided design software and 3-D printers in its robotics program.

The Gouverneur and General Brown school districts, in Gouverneur and Brownville, are planning major upgrades to their security systems, and have each received over $900,000 for the updates.

Carol L. LaSala, business manager of Gouverneur Central School District, said that her district's security upgrades would include more secure building access and monitoring.

"We'll be having a buzz-in system now, where you have to be let in through the first set of main entrance doors, and tell everyone in the office who you are, before you can actually enter the building. We'll also be adding exterior cameras," Ms. LaSala said.

She also said that new wireless hubs in hallways and classrooms will be "crucial for our one-to-one device system."

Students at General Brown can expect new emergency notifications, as the sound systems in all district buildings will be replaced. Lisa K. Smith, the district's executive director of Administrative Services, said that the new sound system is part of a series of security improvements.

"We'll also be enhancing our surveillance equipment," Mrs. Smith said, "and creating a new visitor badge system. These new badges will have a visitor's photo and name."

The remaining $278,375 will be used to improve the school's wireless system, as officials are anticipating letting students use the service; Mrs. Smith said it was "safe to say it will be at least 6 months" before students are allowed to use Wi-Fi.

Complete listings of school districts with Smart Schools Investment Plans, and detailed breakdowns of their anticipated spending, are available at wdt.me/smart-schools.

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©2017 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.