School Committee focuses on technology

WESTFIELD – The School Committee opened its first session of the new year with three new members Monday night, reorganizing the structure of the board.
Kevin Sullivan was elected to serve as the vice chairman of the committee, while Cindy Sullivan was elected secretary to record votes.
Sullivan appointment membership to the board’s four standing subcommittees, appointing several of the new members to leadership positions. Sullivan, by virtue of the vice chairmanship serves on all subcommittees.
Michael Tirrell and Diane Mayhew will serve on the Instruction and Curriculum Subcommittee; William Duval and Mayhew on the Human Resource and Policy Subcommittee; Ramon Diaz and Cindy Sullivan on the Educational Planning and Technology Subcommittee; and Cindy Sullivan and Tirrell will service on the Finance Committee. (The first person named is the chairman of that committee.)
The 45 minute session dealt with primarily administrative issues, but was followed by a 90-minute session of the newly formed Educational Planning & Technology subcommittee, during which the formation and implementation of an updated technology plan and possible funding sources were discussed.
Thomas Mahalek of 94 Falley Drive, a Munger Hill Elementary School parent, opened that discussion during the public participation of the subcommittee agenda, discussing the support that school’s parent-teacher organization has provided in terms of technology. Mahalek also noted the lack of investment at Munger Hill to support technology provided by parents.
“We ask what is needed, where we should be spending funds for technology and we get the scarecrow pointing like this (in two opposite directions),” he said. I’m not interested in discussing how we got here, but how we’re going to get out of here. But without seeing a tactical rollout plan, how do we get out of where we are.”
Superintendent Suzanne Scallion said the district is already working to revise the technical educational plan for the district’s elementary schools. The current technology plans expires on June 30, 2012 and a new plan accepted as part of the educational documentation submitted to the state.
The technology at the four secondary schools was funded through a $2 million bond and there has been discussion of a similar bond for elementary technology improvements, but the fact that technology is changing so rapidly makes it difficult to keep that plan current.
“We want to be very thoughtful as we enter the next generation of wireless technology,” Scallion said. “We don’t want to spend today’s dollars on yesterday’s technology. We might spend a whole lot more by rushing.”
“The technology bond for the elementary schools has been derailed, but it has not gone away,” Scallion said. “We want equality (in the level of technology in elementary schools) across the district, but the playing field is not level because some Title 1 schools are getting a jump on technology for education.”
“Before we close the doors in June, I want a plan in place to know where we are going,” she said.
The board members also discussed state and federal funding programs for investment in education technology, programs that provide reimbursement of up to 90 percent based upon economic factors, such as the number of students eligible for the national school lunch program.
Three of the city’s schools (Abner Gibbs, Franklin Avenue and Highland Avenue) qualify for 80 percent reimbursement or discounts in technology investments, while four others (Paper Mill, Southampton Road, South Middle and Westfield Vocational Technical High School) qualify for 60 percent refunds and/or discounts in educational technology investments.
Kevin Sullivan said the committee needs to create a technology line item in the annual budget process.
“We need a technology line item so we’re not making huge investments every six years, but are not maintaining that technology,” he said. “With a new school coming on line we have a great opportunity.”

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