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Kenmare school patrons to vote on $47,000 technology levy

Voters in the Kenmare school district will have the opportunity on June 14th to approve a five mill levy to be used specifically for technology needs in the district. At the current district valuation of over $9 million, the levy would generate approximately $47,000 annually.

3/16/11 (Wed)

Technology crunch . . . Students in Tarra Froseth's business and
technology classes at Kenmare High School use laptop computers
on a daily basis, but access to computers is extremely limited
for other classrooms.  Teachers, administrators and the school board
hope to expand the availability of computers and other forms
of technology with the help of a special five-mill technology levy
that voters will be asked to approve in a June 14th election.



Funds to be used for new computers and
related items for education
By Caroline Downs
Voters in the Kenmare school district will have the opportunity on June 14th to approve a five mill levy to be used specifically for technology needs in the district. At the current district valuation of over $9 million, the levy would generate approximately $47,000 annually.
The question now under consideration by school board members, teachers and administrators is how to best define the district’s ever-expanding technology needs. The board discussed that topic on Wednesday during an informal retreat setting.
In the past six years, the district’s actual expenses for technology-related equipment, salaries and ITV fees have steadily increased from a total of $71,758 in the 2005-2006 school year to $142,427 as of February 15, 2011. For the last full academic year in 2009-2010, expenses totalled $118,560.
Business manager Renae Murphy explained that many of those expenses were not directly listed in the district budget because they were paid through technology and federal Title grants awarded to the district through the efforts of teachers and administrators, including the $100,000 Title IID grant received this year.
“With the grants and the Title money, you have to use it or lose it,” she said. “You can’t carry it over to another year, and you won’t know exactly what you’re getting until the school year starts.”
North Dakota Century Code restricts school districts to five mills levied for technology, which must be approved by a vote of the district patrons. Money generated by a technology levy can be used to pay for computers and computer networks, software, other computerized equipment related to student instruction and the salary of a staff person to supervise the use and maintenance of educational technology.
Murphy noted an annual collection of $47,000 would significantly help offset the district’s technology expenses. “This isn’t a frivolous kind of thing,” she said.
Administrators want access
beyond elementary level
Kenmare superintendent Duane Mueller acknowledged the school board, administration and staff have more questions than answers at this point in their discussion about technology. However, all parties agree on the importance of technology as a tool for students and staff. “The world is changing and part of our responsibility in education is to at least expose kids to the technology that’s available,” he said.
He pointed to the Gateway laptop computer open on his desk as he grabbed the black handheld device laying next to it. “My Blackberry has the capability of my laptop,” he said, “and this will change in the next two to three years. When we talk about 21st century skills for kids, we’ve been told it’s, number one, creativity, and number two, collaboration, and the iPad has changed how we do things!”
From Mueller’s perspective, the priorities related to technology funding include at least one full-time tech support person to focus on equipment, maintenance and software issues. “The role of support staff is huge,” he said. “Stanley [school district] will have two full-time techs in their district next fall.”
The Kenmare district currently employs Arnold Jordan on a part-time basis in the role of technology support staff.
Another focus will be professional development for staff members. “We’re using technology a lot here with our students but we need to know how to use them more effectively,” Mueller said.
He mentioned a training session already scheduled with Souris Valley Special Services for using iPads in the classroom. “That alone will open up a door for our special needs kids,” he said.
A third priority is providing computers for students on a one-to-one ratio. “The question we’ve been asking ourselves is where do we start?” said Mueller. “We have a lot of ideas and we’ve had a lot of discussion.”
Compared to some school districts, Kenmare students and teachers have more opportunities to use technology as a tool on a regular basis. All teachers have a laptop for school use, and the classrooms are outfitted with ActivBoards or SMART Boards for group lessons.
“In the elementary building, for grades kindergarten through three, we’re not lacking,” Mueller said. The teachers and students there have access to a mobile unit of 30 iPads, another mobile unit of 24 to 30 laptops with wireless capabilities, a handful of additional laptop computers to share as needed, and two older Mac desktop computers in each classroom.
Students in grades four, five and six at the high school have access to a lab of 17 older Mac computers and a mobile cart of 30 iPads, the counterpart to the iPads at the elementary school and the result of a $100,000 Title IID federal technology education grant the district received in November. A portion of the grant money will also be spent, as required, on staff training in various educational uses for the iPads.
However, students in grades 7 through 12 are more limited in their use of computers during school time. “The library has a handful of older Macs for students use, all at least seven years old or older,” Mueller said, “and we have the lab of Dell PCs with 22 computers.”
Business and technology education instructor Tarra Froseth has a cart of 30 laptops in her classroom, with those computers in use five periods a day during her word processing, Computer 7, Computer 8 and accounting classes. Another 15 laptop computers of various ages and questionable reliability are available for the rest of the secondary students to borrow during the school day.
“We’ve been fortunate with landing grants in the past few years, and that Title IID grant was huge for us,” Mueller said. “Without that, we couldn’t have purchased the iPads for the elementary students. But there’s a cost to maintaining what we have as well.”
He frequently hears from teachers how they want access to computers with their students on a regular basis. “Being able to use it when the need is there,” he said. “Scheduling is a problem. Our younger kids have access, and we want to have that same opportunity in grades seven through twelve.”
High school principal Scott Faul said he has 130 junior high and high school students vying for access to the limited numbers of old computers at the school, with the fifth and large sixth grade classes also scheduling time on those machines. “Our Dell lab is used every period most days,” he said, “and for the sixth grade right now, there’s no lab big enough for all of them.”
Given the students’ need to understand and use technology in higher education and work opportunities, he was optimistic about the district’s plans to add computers. “We’re on the right track to get computers more available for our kids,” he said. “We need to have that type of technology available. After visiting Stanley and different schools that do have a one-to-one computer ratio, that’s something we want for our kids.”
Ideally, Faul would like to see a portable computer lab in each classroom. “The teachers would have control of the actual set-up on those computers,” he said. “That way, we could use class time a lot more efficiently.”
Teachers promote efficient
learning environment
The teachers are ready for that efficiency. Business and technology instructor Tarra Froseth said nearly everything the students do in her classes is or will soon be technology-based, with a trend moving away from laptop to handheld devices, which is no problem for the students. “They’re already used to using these, and we take those devices away when the students come to the classroom,” she said.
Froseth noted that discussions among staff members have shown the two most important uses of technology in their classes at this time are for research and word-processing. Current applications geared for iPad and iTouch devices tend to favor elementary classroom use, so netbooks would be the best choice for the older students right now, for the price.
However, applications in development for the iPad, iTouch and other handheld devices will make those the instruments of choice in the future, when student textbooks, notetaking capabilities and classroom resources can be accessed directly.
“The netbooks are the most practical and realistic for what’s available right now,” Froseth said, “but as software for devices like the iTouches becomes more education-based, we’ll work those in. The netbooks wouldn’t have the memory capacity for textbooks, but right now there are few textbooks available that way that we would use at our high school.”
Netbooks function like scaled-down versions of laptop computers, with word processing and Internet research capabilities but little memory for storage.
Froseth strongly advocated the use of additional technology by students as a way to prepare for college and/or careers. “We need to be realistic about what tools our students will use in the future,” she said. “How many businesses do you go into now and there’s nobody using technology? We need to add the ‘T’ into our ‘3Rs’ in education. There’s no getting around it!”
Enrichment instructor Tami McNeiley deals with the frustration of computer access on a daily basis when she works with the fourth, fifth and sixth graders. “Our elementary lab is outdated, and the labs in the high school are extremely hard to schedule,” she said. “You have to get in line, and then you have to leave the environment of your classroom to use them.”
She would like to see a netbook computer perched on each student’s desk throughout the day. “That way, they’re available and accessible to my students right now,” she said, adding that students could research questions and look for information immediately to boost spontaneous learning opportunities that arise in classrooms.
Her wish list for the next two to three years is similar to Faul’s, with a mobile lab of 25 netbooks located in every classroom from grades 3 to 12. “You use that computer more than you know,” she said. “The kids want them on their desk so it’s just right there. This is 21st Century learning and what the world is going toward.”
Fifth grade teacher Terese Skjordal agreed with McNeiley and Froseth. “They have to have the technology in their hands,” she said. “This will allow our kids to be more creative in their own way. Our students also need to work together and this will enhance that, to do all kinds of things collaboratively.”
She emphasized that the supporting software and security systems would be necessary, along with more access to Internet ports in each classroom for fast processing. “The more computers we have running off the wireless system, the more ports we’re going to need,” she said.
Skjordal mentioned that computers are not viewed as toys in the classroom. “These are a major educational tool, and we do have a lot compared to some places,’ she said. “Compared to other places, though, we’re far behind. Right now, we think netbooks that don’t go home, that don’t get stuffed in lockers, that get plugged in to recharge every night in the classroom would work for our school.”
Board looks at future
for Kenmare students
School board member and Curriculum and Technology Committee member Craig Ellsworth wholeheartedly supported the school administration’s and staff’s priorities. “Looking at the way our society stands right now, there aren’t many jobs out there that don’t utilize technology,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important students at the high school age and younger get familiar with and taught technology.”
Most students are already familiar with some form of technology for entertainment and personal use, but Ellsworth agreed it needs to be more common in the classroom. “We have outstanding teachers grasping this technology and teaching it,” he said. “Our teachers and students are hungry for this and we don’t have enough of it. We need something on a one-to-one basis so it can be utilized, but it will take time to get to that level.”
After talking around the idea for months, the Curriculum and Technology Committee has proposed the use of netbook computers for students in grades 7 through 12. Ellsworth noted such an investment would also require the purchase and training in the use of security software for teachers and an expanded technology support position.
“Mr. Jordan does an outstanding job as the tech support person now,” he said, “but if we’re going to double the amount of equipment he has to support, we may need more help. And it’s not just the repairs, but keeping them updated with software will also take time for a tech person.”
Board members agreed they would seek input from Jordan about the role and duties of the district’s tech support person, especially as more student computers are put into use.
The board also recognized that maintaining and replacing the equipment on a regular basis will add another expense to the annual budget. “I see a need here that’s not going to go away,” said David King, who serves on the Curriculum and Technology Committee. “Technology is such a huge item in schools, and we’re making more and more use of it every year. The kids are wanting it and needing it.”
King compared the proposed technology mill levy to the building fund mill levy Kenmare district voters approved in the 1970s. “That’s been transformative in our school district, to keep our buildings maintained and repaired,” he said. “I look at this technology levy the same way.” He noted that other districts in the region already levy mills dedicated to technology expenses.
Ellsworth and King welcome questions and comments from the public as the board continues to formulate a more comprehensive technology plan in the coming weeks. Individuals who want to reach school board members are invited to call the school office at 701-385-4996 for contact information.
“We hope there would be no questions asked later that could have been clarified now,” Ellsworth said. “It’s a need we’ve discussed for a number of years, not something we drummed up overnight. We’ve got a great teaching staff that has dedicated themselves to different and more unique ways to teach, and I know this is going to get used.”