School board talks technology implementation plan

MARSHALL – The Marshall School Board spent a good deal of time discussing the Transformational Learning and Teaching Through Technology: a four-year implementation plan at its regular meeting Monday.

The 15-page plan begins with the vision, goals and objectives for the district, includes recommendations for devices, curriculum integration and user support, and ends with a device procurement and deployment timeline.

“To move into the world of 21st century teaching and learning, students will need one-for-one access to digital devices that allow them the ability to learn anytime or anywhere internet access exists,” Marshall Superintendent Klint Willert said. “MPS strives to create a learning environment that develops the potential of each learner for success in a changing world. The best way to accelerate learning is by embedding technology into student courses and classrooms.”

Willert explained the process of the SAMR (substitution, augmentation, modification, redefinition) Model to the board by using a geography lesson as an example.

“It’s not just laying out the map. It gets into the application of the technology in meaningful way,” he said. “It also changes the expectations and changes the way we teach.”

Student learning would not be confined to a school building or specific time frame either, Willert said. Along with having the ability to communicate easily with peers and teachers, access to an iPad or other learning device also allows students to experiment, learn new ideas, read books, write a research paper, create a presentation or practice skills through games, he said.

Though the student is at the center of everything, part of the technology piece includes the delivery of professional development and training, Willert said.

“Staffing needs, device needs and training needs are all part of the plan,” he said. “We’ve clearly stated our commitment to staff development as much as the device. It becomes the difference maker for our students.

“And if we are successful with Race to the Top (grant being considered), it would really put this plan on steroids.”

Right now, funding is uncertain, which makes moving forward a challenge. If voters approve the district referendum for an additional $150 per pupil unit on Nov. 5, that money would be earmarked for technology integration, along with safety and security upgrades. If the operating referendum does not pass, discussions will likely take place between administrators, board members and committee volunteers to decide how to proceed.

“I have to compliment the district for having a plan,” board chairman Jeff Chapman said. “And we have to make plans for this. We have to place our priorities anyway.”

According to the four-year plan, a total of $609,037 would be spent on technology integration during the 2014-15 school year, followed by $476,550 for 2015-16, $534,440 for 2016-17 and $745,500 for 2017-18.

Park Side Elementary is first on the list to have devices and equipment deployed (2014-15), followed by West Side (2015-16), Marshall Middle School (2016-17) and at the secondary level (2017-18). A number of board members, including Bill Mulso and Karen VanKeulen, questioned whether or not the high school level should be at the top of the list.

“If we don’t put devices in the hands of secondary students until 2017, I think we’re missing a huge opportunity there,” Mulso said.

VanKeulen said she thought that the district should start with the secondary level.

“Anyone in high school is missing out otherwise,” she said. “Why wouldn’t we start with the kids closest to leaving?”

Willert explained that changing practice takes time, which was one of the reasons the team of educators on the technology committee decided to recommend a bottom-up process instead of a top-down one.

“If you begin early, students then transition though,” he said. “That was one theory. But that piece is still open for discussion.”

Board member Matt Coleman said he could see the benefit of starting the integration at the elementary level.

“Reading at grade level by third grade has always been a goal of ours,” he said. “We could go with the young kids and secondary kids and then meet in the middle.”

VanKeulen brought up the possibility that students would leave the Marshall district in search of another school that offered a technology-rich environment. Willert responded by saying that it was “a fair point.”

“That’s the type of discussions we have to enter into,” he said.

The board also debated compatibility issues, noting that there could be many challenges if student iPhones and other devices were relied upon. Willert said he was optimistic that the district would get to a more consistent level someday in the future, but that it wouldn’t help with the outdated issues the district is having with the computer labs. Business Director Bruce Lamprecht suggested that the administration team look into lease purchase options.

When asked, student representative Sydney Hey said she mostly used textbooks during school hours, though she’d prefer an iPad.

“It would be a lot easier to carry around an iPad, and it would be much better on my back, too,” Hey said. “It would also be nice to everything in one place.”

In other action, the board set Nov. 13 as the date to canvass the election. The board also approved the 2013-14 revised budget, which showed a better financial forecast because of increased enrollment and positive staffing alignments.

“Taking into account all the current information we have, there is a $115,000 excess in the general fund,” Lamprecht said. “That’s a change from the deficit we had in the preliminary budget. We’ve had less expenses and more revenue than with the preliminary budget, so we’re not having to dip into reserves at this time.