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  • Writer's pictureEmily Berry

A vision for technology absent teacher insight

Note: you can watch the video of Tuesday's regular meeting here.

This week's school board meeting was full of news, including a preview of the district's new website, changes coming to the school calendar for next year, and updates on school safety following discussion a the last meeting. More on those below....

The top item of interest for me was the introduction of the administration's draft long-range technology plan. Click here to read it.

Last year our school district hired a new director of technology, Mickey Chavannes, formerly Director of Instructional Technology for the School District of Cudahy, who started last summer and tasked with creating a long-range plan for the district. Tuesday night was his chance to show his draft plan to the school board.

It turns out, he had apparently skipped over the most important stakeholders in making the plan work: our teachers. During the linkage meeting with the teachers' union, Shorewood Education Association, immediately preceding the board meeting, SEA leadership let board members and Superintendent Bryan Davis know that the draft plan did not include or take into account any input with teachers. The plan calls for every student in grades 1-12 to have "access to a device" -- either a tablet or a laptop -- by 2023.

But teachers said they weren't sure how they felt about that idea. Teachers said had only seen an earlier draft, and that feedback they'd offered on that draft did not appear to have been integrated into the current one. The draft plan does acknowledge that most of the work of implementing the plan will fall to teachers, and calls for a lot of professional development and training. Teachers are understandably a little wary of adding to the already substantial training they are doing around race and around expeditionary learning (EL), two major initiatives that aren't going to be complete anytime soon.

To their credit, the board and superintendent said they were glad that the SEA raised the issue, even if it made for an uncomfortable conversation Dr. Davis said the district would put together a technology advisory committee to facilitate integration of teachers' feedback into long-range planning. He stressed that the current draft timeline could be slowed down, and that the first step in the plan is a pilot program that would help district leadership adjust based on what works for teachers and what might not.

So what did the draft say? (Again, read it here)

At first read, I interpreted the end point described for 2023 -- "Grades 1-12 devices are accessible for all students" as meaning a 1:1 ratio of tablets to kids. I think teachers may have read it the same way I did. But the plan was actually carefully phrased, Dr. Davis, told the SEA, not to say what type of device (iPad or Surface tablet, for example), and not to specify what "access" means. It may not mean that every student has a tablet to take home and use year-round.

The other most significant item I saw in the plan could be incredibly significant to Shorewood in many ways: offering wi-fi access to the entire village, to ensure every student has access to the same resources to help them complete their work (see page 12 of the draft plan). It would be available to every household -- not just those with students -- which would no doubt be a perk to living in our village, and if it offered enough bandwidth to replace household internet for streaming, it could amount to a pretty significant gift to every village resident.

How much would all of this cost? The draft budget from the current year to 2023 totals about $1.4 million, starting with using some money saved from what Mr. Miller and Mr. Chavannes said were efficiencies that Mr. Chavannes managed to make this school year. The first purchase will be for a pilot that would include one teacher at each school. For now, it seems like that's all the board feels sure about approving. It looks likely there will be many more conversations about how we can and should use technology in the classroom and how it relates to the overarching goals of the district. Thankfully, those conversations are now explicitly supposed to include teachers.

And now, other news...

  • Our district's students joined with thousands across the country protesting gun violence that has left them feeling betrayed by adults who have failed to keep them safe. Meanwhile, the most responsive adults are also the most vulnerable themselves -- the teachers who are in the classrooms that too often become murder scenes. During the linkage meeting with the SEA, teachers described how difficult it is to stay calm and upbeat while internally struggling with doubt and terror, and how hard it is not to think of how exactly they would manage to keep small children or unruly teenagers quiet or hidden if they were faced with an active shooter in school. There were tears. No one likes these conversations, and no one really has answers. Meanwhile, teachers who felt strongly enough about the need for meaningful gun control measures and safer schools to support students in walking out of class for 17 minutes on Wednesday were required to take a half day off of school. I understand this decision and don't disagree with it, but it stings. If some teachers wanted to march in support of the NRA, the policy should be the same. It just is too bad that more teachers weren't able to be side by side with students during the walk out, since they are expected to be human shields for those same students if the worst happens.

  • Calendar changes for next year had teachers asking administrators and board members to keep in mind the continual erosion of their prep time -- particularly at the elementary level, where Wednesday dismissal will happen ten minutes later next year. Even with a few more professional development days tacked on, the few minutes less each day to prepare lessons combined with the demands of the EL model and the increased emphasis on differentiation (giving personalized lessons to students at several different levels of comprehension and learning style) had some teachers feeling overwhelmed.

  • During the regular meeting, I was struck with the emotion that overcame Dr. Davis when he talked about the policy and plans for the walkout. He talked about how inspiring the students and staff organizers are, and choked up for several minutes, unable to finish his sentence.

  • As a follow up to school safety updates at the last board meeting, Dr. Davis described plans for short-term improvements at our schools. Next year's budget will call for new and improved security cameras, and a short-term jury-rig fix for PA systems that don't reach the hallways and bathrooms in any school. Dr. Davis said a new, state-of-the-art system would be expensive, to the tune of $600,000, and with potential major work that could happen in the next 5-10 years with the pending facilities plan, he said he didn't think it would be wise to buy an entirely new system. I don't like the idea of what he described as a few speakers and some wire to just cover the places that our current systems don't reach. I wish board members had at least asked to see the cost of some mid-range or partial upgrades, because better PA systems would have some benefits beyond a school shooting scenario, and maybe there are systems out there that wouldn't require rewiring the whole school, thus interfering with other remodeling projects.

  • The district, thank goodness, is getting a new website! Board members got a preview of the new site, which comes with the benefit of saving money compared to our current site. I don't have anything profound to say about it except "hooray!" and "it's about time." We'll see how it goes rolling it out -- it's scheduled to happen in the next 4-6 weeks, definitely before the end of the school year.

So, that's a lot of news. What questions do you have? What concerns do you have with the way the district will use technology in the classroom? Do you like the idea of village-wide wi-fi?

Comment here or on my facebook page, and of course send the board members and administrators your thoughts, always! Their contact info is online.

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