School finance board to discuss technology funds

WESTFIELD – The School Finance Subcommittee slated a special meeting next week to discuss a $1.85 million elementary school technology bond.
Educational Technology Facilitator Joanne Hentnick and Denise Ruszala, director of curriculum and instruction, presented a technology plan to the School Committee’s Educational Planning & Technology Subcommittee Monday night.
Hentnick said the proposed plan will create technology equity across all elementary schools in the district.
The City Council approved a $2 million technology bond that was used to upgrade technology in the city’s four secondary schools.
Hentnick said that the bond was originally for $4 million and would have included the district’s elementary schools.
“The lack of infrastructure in the elementary buildings was one reason the bond was reduced,” she said.
New generations of technology have been introduced since that original bond was approved, technology that is much less reliant on infrastructure.
“The new technology requires less in infrastructure enhancements, but that still will be a significant cost,” Hentnick said.
“The goal is equity for all elementary schools,” she said, “to create 21st Century classrooms across the district.”
The challenge of achieving that goal is the fact that the city is in the process of constructing a new elementary school at the intersection of Ashley and Cross Street and will close several buildings.
Mayor Daniel M. Knapik has said at the School Building Committee sessions that the new school project will also include a technology element that will set a standard for elementary school technology across the district.
When that new school opens the district will close the Franklin Avenue and Abner Gibbs Elementary schools. The city will also remove students from the Juniper Park Elementary School as part of the redistricting plan.
Hentnick said the district is taking a two-pronged approach to achieve the technology equality. One prong is to install infrastructure, desktop computers and mounted technology in schools slated to remain open after the redistricting following the opening of the new school.
The second prong is to install mobile technology in schools slated to be closed so it can be moved to other buildings.
“Not outfitting those schools which will close is not an option,” Hentnick said Monday.
The solution to that problem is computers on carts equipped with routers for remote access.
The district has a goal of equipping schools in the district with wi-fi capabilities to allow students greater access on the school campus.
“The most difficult part of technology planning is that technology is evolving so quickly,” Hentnick said. “The technology planning for the new school hasn’t even started yet because the city wants the ‘latest’ technology installed in that building.”
Hentnick said the district and Technology Center are currently working with vendors to refine the initial cost projection before the bond request is presented to the City Council.
School Committeewoman Cindy Sullivan said the district needs to upgrade its technology to maintain an educational competitive edge.
“We need technology. We have to have it,” Sullivan said. “The kids need it. We have to train teachers to use it to its full potential. The kids are much more comfortable with today’s technology than adults. The kids are walking around with computers in their pockets.”
The Finance Subcommittee will discuss the bond and the use of school choice funds Monday, Nov. 21 at 6 p.m. The School Committee will convene in a special session at 7 p.m. to act on several matters.

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