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Discussion by the Ladue School Board Certainly Stirred Up Various Views

The Ladue School Board expressed mixed views about the 21st Century Learning Initiative.

No doubt, this was the hot topic of the week. More than 40 comments have come in on two articles, and a number of readers are voting in the local poll dealing with this hot-button issue. The clamor, pretty much is over who is going to pay for these laptop computers. Obviously, tax weary residents are tired of shelling out dollars and think the burden should shift to the parents of students. Check out these recent articles.

The Ladue School Board met this week with the majority of the meeting time devoted to the 21st Century Learning Initiative, which has been discussed at length beginning in May, 2011.

Rob Highfill, who serves as Ladue School District's Director of Information Technology Services proposed that the school district provide each student at Ladue High School a laptop computer to better integrate technology into student education. Other devices were considered throughout the process, however, Macbook Air laptops are the hardware of choice at this time.

Highfill stated that the proposed one-to-one technology initiative will make technology available to every student, which will provide the same opportunity and access to technology to all students. Because the school-issued laptop computers will go home with every student every night, students will have access to technology without current limitations and time constraints.

To help illustrate Highfill’s beliefs on the need for the one-to-one initiative, Adam Stirrat presented his views as the gatekeeper of school technology, Shruti Upadhyay, Ladue High School English Teacher presented her experiences from a teacher’s standpoint and Mark Shevitz presented his thoughts from a parental viewpoint.

Stirrat stated that during the 2011-2012 school year, state assessments which measure student proficiency were given in an online format only. Because of the number of students verses the number of computers available, the computer lab was shut down and reserved for testing for nearly four weeks. During that time, students were not able to gain access to technology for classroom work, research and projects and teachers were limited in the way they were able to integrate technology into their lesson plans.

“Teachers come to me with really amazing ideas and I have to turn them away because of limited equipment,” said Stirrat.

Upadhyay presented a student-produced biographical poem which the student was asked to integrate words and technology using visuals and sound. The final project, a video, was used to illustrate how more access to technology can offer students more learning opportunities. Another project incorporated a non-fiction book, sound, video and You Tube. This project attempted to teach the students about the world in which they live and to break down stereotypes while understanding the importance of words.

“The students had to start and finish on the same computer. This was not a project the students could do at home. There were eight classes on the same computers in the lab. There were setbacks with the limited technology and other students using the computers in the school computer lab,” said Upadhyay. Her enthusiasm about the use of technology and how it enhanced her ability to teach her students was evident.

Shevitz, owner of SJI, Inc., added about Ladue High School students, “These kids need to know how to use technology, because they will need to know how to use it professionally. We have interns that have to know how to use computers and technology or we don’t bring them on board. It is the world in which we live.” Shevitz owns a marketing company.

Although there were no hard figures presented, after balancing cost verses savings, Highfill suggested the cost of the initial hardware is about $250,000. Additional costs will be incurred for necessary staff training and for repair to the hardware that is inevitable. A proposed insurance fee paid for by parents could offset the cost of repairs.

Highfill said the best opportunity to implement the technology plan is in the 2016-2017 school year. It is possible for it to happen sooner with additional costs involved in breaking current computer leases. If the district waits until 2016-17 the current computer equipment leases will be up at that time. In the interim, current equipment will not be upgraded to help offset the cost of purchasing the laptops.

The board expressed mixed views about the 21st Century Technology Initiative. None were completely against it. And after much discussion, the consensus was that more information was needed to make an educated decision.

Some board members voiced concern for community reactions to spending funds on computers for every student in light of the recent tax levy passing and the budget cuts deemed necessary at that time.

Highfill stated that, “the plan for the one-to-one initiative was already in place before the tax levy was presented and passed. The committee does not plan to use Prop 1 funds (for the purchase of the laptop computers.)

Some Board members suggested that using funds in the budget to help offset the cost may inadvertently come from Prop 1 funds.

Other business discussed was the preliminary budget for 2012-2013 school year, early separation incentive recommendations, the high school focus group report and policy changes.

CreveCoeurDad June 18, 2012 at 02:02 AM
Politics is a game of coalitions. I have yet to hear you advocate for spending district money on anything other than reduced elementary school class sizes. When you only advocate for your kids, your kids lose. The district is comprised of more than just elementary schools and unless you build a wider coalition, you will always lose. It's one thing to advocate for your kids, it's quite something else to advocate just for them and against everyone else's. I’d love to see your opinion on this in 10 years, when your kids are no longer in elementary school.
Jill Moore June 18, 2012 at 06:15 PM
O.k. CC Dad. Last time I respond because I won't continue to defend myself personally, I want to stick to the issues. First of all....I have mainly been advocating for smaller class sizes in the elementary schools. That is true. There are mountains of studies backing me up on the value of smaller elementary school class sizes. Elementary is the very FOUNDATION of all of our children's educations. If we screw it up at that level, it doesn't matter what we offer later, the kids will never catch up. Our district has 1,765 elementary students. That is 40% of the district. I am not just advocating for MY child. Am I outspoken, yes. Can I be annoying, hell yes. Are there people who don't like me, absolutely. Good thing I'm not running for Homecoming Queen. I'm advocating for the kids. In the last few months I have met with several leaders in the district, board members, administrators. I have had conversations with teachers in the district. I have started working with LEF. I have given them several new fundraising ideas, at least one of which I understand they have started working on already. I am an active volunteer at Reed, LECC and have just begun volunteering with LEF. One thing I am NOT is ineffective. I have said I will personally donate to any fundraising efforts in support of the tech program. I support our district and, yes, I am outspoken. I will not stop. I am affecting change. Naysay all you want. Winning you over is not part of my goal.
CreveCoeurDad June 18, 2012 at 11:04 PM
Although I can understand the emotional appeal of your argument, the fact is, a lot of your facts just don't hold up to serious analysis. I can speak both from personal experience and as someone who's done some investigation of what works in education. And, I'll start off by saying that I do support smaller class sizes at all levels for various reasons at some point, but it's not my highest priority. The simple fact is, reducing elementary classes down to 18 will achieve very little. Our current crop of high school students went through elementary school with often up to 28 kids in a classroom, and they're doing just fine. Asian classrooms, of which we're all enamored with now, often have up to 40 students per classroom and they appear to kick our butt. (I have my doubts.) Smaller classroom sizes are usually pushed by teacher's unions who want more members and easier work loads for their members. There's little evidence they achieve anything. http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-08-26-classsize26_ST_N.htm And that study was conducted out of Columbia Teachers College, a place I rarely find anything to agree with. The bottom line is, despite the neuroses of us parents, our kids are going to turn out just fine. They all have an upper limit that no teacher or method or program is going to get past. All we can do is screw our kids up. Smaller class size - not harmful, but not much bang for the buck.
CreveCoeurDad June 18, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Ahhh, cloud computing, the diskless workstation, circa 1988, of the 21st Century. Bad idea then, bad idea now. But it's a great idea for taking a single hardware or network failure and bringing down thousands of users. Not to mention, anyone who has ever tried to use Citrix on an overloaded network knows what a wonderful idea it is to run apps across a network. Same rules apply now as in 1988 - hardware and software are cheap, people are expensive. And an entire company/school sitting around while IT fixes the cloud, that's REALLY expensive.
Bill Burmeister June 19, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Think about how you are making these comments did you use a Laptop, did you use a desktop, did you use a smart phone or other type of device? Laptop or Dual Core Technology smart phone for me. Technology is always changing, just think about what it was like five years ago; much less 10 or 15 years ago. So students have much more change in education due to technology than we as parents ever experienced. I am proud of the Ladue School District for even evaluating such a forward thinking technology program. It shows that my kids have been provided a top rated education in what is recognized as a "leading edge" teaching environment nationally. Just check it out on the internet about what educators and rating sources say regarding the Ladue School District nationally.

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