The Harbinger Online

Superintendent Revises Technology Plan

St. Teresa’s Academy was the first one to take the plunge in 2010.

Next was the North KC and Kansas City Kan. School Districts. These districts and others across the region have all one by one transitioned to the 1:1 initiative, providing each student with a laptop for them to keep during the school year.

Starting in the 2014-2015 school year, the Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD) will most likely be joining these local districts and schools across the nation who have chosen to dive into 21st century education, according to superintendent Dr. Jim Hinson.

Hinson will offer a proposal to the Shawnee Mission School Board on Jan. 27 about the potential of SMSD taking part in the 1:1 Initiative. Hinson believes that the passing of his proposal is “likely, if not probable.” Ideally by August, Hinson would like to see a Mac laptop in the hands of every SMSD high school student. He also hopes to have iPads for middle and elementary school students, though the precise grade level for elementary school students is still being determined.

“We’ve talked to a lot of our major employers of technology,” Hinson said. “We’ve looked at what we’re doing in the Shawnee Mission School District to say ‘We have a void. We really need to address technology.’ and so we are trying to refine a plan…in relation to [whether we can] have a massive rollout of technology.”

To fund this program, SMSD is using money from their capital outlay account; that money is set apart specifically for purchasing equipment, constructing buildings, etc. and can’t be used for teacher salaries. By using this funding track, there are no required grants to receive the equipment and it doesn’t require votes by the community.

Once that technology is purchased, teachers would receive the same type of equipment to collaborate with their students. To prepare for this massive amount of new technology, there would be extensive teacher training towards the end of this school year and into the summer. Principal John McKinney thinks that in order to be successful with the new technology, teacher training and being very knowledgable of how to operate the laptops will be vital.

“[Training teachers is] just the same thing as a teacher with students,” McKinney said. “You don’t say ‘Hey I want you to read “Macbeth” and then write a paper on it.’ You don’t just throw it out there and walk away. If I’m going to ask teachers to utilize this technology in their classes and in their lessons, then I need to provide them with the tools to be able to do that.”

Teacher development has been something that Hinson has emphasized as well. In addition to discussing professional development, Hinson and Associate Superintendent of Public Information & Communications Dr. Leigh Anne Neal have also been communicating with districts who have already been through the transition of adding in technology to the classroom. Their communication has spanned from local schools to districts as far as Lewisville, Texas to get feedback on their experiences.

“We have to consider all the infrastructure…and some other things that have to support a large infusion of technology,” Neal said. “So we’ve been looking at a number of different places, talking to people, practitioners that have done this to find out what their experiences were, what their best practices are; if they could do it again, what were some of the pitfalls, how would they redesign if they could do it again.”

This positive feedback has only encouraged Hinson and Neal. After hearing what other districts have gone through and the advantages the technology has brought in for them, Hinson can only see the positives for integrating technology.

“This is the world in which students live,” Hinson said. “And so many of our students have technology at home but then when they come to school, it’s almost a technology desert in comparison to how they live at their home.”

Although McKinney hasn’t heard much feedback from teachers — positive or negative — he thinks most of his staff would be ready to “dive right in” to the new challenges the technology would bring.

Chemistry teacher Steven Appier is completely on board with bringing laptops or iPads into the classrooms. He knows that specifically the science department would greatly benefit from the added technology.

“I think with the level of technology that we’re trying to use…it would really be a helpful way to promote student interest and to advance our learning into the 21st century,” Appier said. “For chemistry specifically, there are a number of good applications that can be used on iPads specifically but it really requires each individual to have their own. It’s not something that works as well in a group setting or even working with a partner.”

On the other hand, Spanish teacher Linda Sieck is concerned about the changes that will happen in regard to teachers’ grading programs and the web backpack system currently in play.

“My concern is that teachers will have ample and effective training,” Sieck said. “Often teachers must do the majority of these clerical tasks on their own time and hope training and transitioning from the PC to Mac will not have to be done, for the most part beyond the contract day and school year.”

Senior Anna Jones also sees both the advantages and the disadvantages for bringing in laptops for high school students. She brings her own laptop to school every day and often is able to be very productive with it. However, she’s also unsure about how much the laptops would be used in a productive manner. Either way, she does believe that those who would use them for educational purposes would benefit greatly.

“Whenever we have free time in classes [having my laptop] allows me to work on assignments and stuff that I either have to do for later that day or a later time,” Jones said. “Especially my senior year it’s been helpful because when we do get a free moment I can work on college applications. It allows me to not waste time at school.”

One of the biggest concerns among East staff is how to deal with the distractions a laptop would create. For English department head Jeanette Bonjour, there is no concrete solution to the problem. However, she does believe it is a manageable one.

“It becomes a matter of personal responsibility,” Bonjour said. “Some of our students are really good at that and some aren’t. And I don’t know that it’s going to be worse with the iPads or laptops in the room, but I just think it’ll be a different sort of distraction. But I think it’s up to [teachers] to make sure they’re only out when we have a purpose for them.”

All the potential distractions aside, McKinney believes that integrating technology is the right thing to do. He believes this generation grew up with technology, and regardless of the controversy on the topic, that the future is headed in that direction.

“[Technology] just opens up so much potential for wonderful, deep critical thinking,” McKinney said. “And that’s the part I’m excited about. The pros outweigh the cons, change is scary, but if we end up going that way, I’ll take a great deal of time and effort to prepare my staff and students for that change.”

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Senior Katie Knight is Co-Editor for print. This is her fourth year on staff. She enjoys bossing people around--particularly Co-Editor Andrew McKittrick. She is also a member of the Broadcasting Dream Team. Read Full »

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