At its regular meeting, Monday, March 9 the New London School Board was given a presentation that highlighted accomplishments and future goals of the Chromebook Initiative.
The district implemented a Chromebook Initiative in March 2014 to better prepare students for the 21st Century in both education and work after high school.
The district believes that technology resources provide countless opportunities for students and staff. This initiative was started with the intention of creating an enriched, collaborative learning environment for students.
Currently half of the students at the high school have chromebooks. A survey was given to freshmen students at the end of the first semester to give administrators and teachers an understanding of just how successful the initiative is.
“We are seeing that this initiative created more engaged students,” said Terry Wetzel, director of Teaching and Learning Services. “They are engaging at a higher level because of the initiative. We are increasing student achievement.”
High school English Teacher Joanna Ledgerwood and Instructional Resource Coach Patricia Peters shared some accomplishments and successes of the chromebooks, and comments from students and teachers.
“With this initiative we’re not teaching technology as a separate entity, but infusing what we are learning every day,” Ledgerwood said.
The chromebooks offer online access making it possible for students to work from home regardless of Internet access. Students use online textbooks and other eResources in classrooms and they have access to these resources 24/7. The students are also able to interact with others in new ways like Skype and Twitter.
“Students are motivated to use this technology and their confidence has increased,” Ledgerwood said. “They feel as if chromebooks are allowing them to more effectively monitor grades and assignments.”
Based on student comments the chromebooks are being used more for homework than for recreational purposes.
“We are consistently hearing from students that they are using the devices to do homework on the bus,” Peters said. “I especially love how our athletes tell us they use the devices for homework on the bus traveling to and from games.”
The chromebooks offer a new feature called Google Classroom. It is a classroom management tool that allows teachers to comment on work that is in-process, and it offers students more opportunities to make adjustments and improve upon their assignments in real time with near immediate feedback.
“Google Classroom is a great feature for both students and teachers,” Ledgerwood said. “Students are contacting teachers outside of the classroom for more feedback.”
Ledgerwood said there are still some students who dislike technology, but have found the chromebook to be a useful tool in the classroom.
Both the students and teachers like how the chromebooks allow for more uninterrupted class time by eliminating the interruption of leaving class to go to computer labs and waiting to log on to other computers.
Not only has the Chromebook Initiative been successful for student interaction and learning, but it is financially feasible for students and the district.
Several classes have not had students turn in hard copies of assignments yet this year; therefore, the amount of printing students do has decreased. According to Ledgerwood, it is estimated the high school will save $5,000 this year because of reduced paper usage.
There was the initial expenditure of $100,000 to purchase the chromebooks, but the district has not had to purchase labs or any additional desktop access. The district is also saving money by reducing purchases of more costly hard cover textbook resources, and in turn, accessing a variety of online resources at a reduced cost or that can be accessed at no charge.
According to Director of Business Services Joe Marquardt, the expenditure and resources have been allocated through the Technology Referendum and Fund 10.
Although there were many positive and successful aspects of the chromebooks, both Ledgerwood and Peters had one big concern for the next school year.
“Next year we will have at least 600 students with chromebooks,” Peters said. “Our hope is that the insurance can be taken care of in a timely manner so the distribution of the devices can go as planned, so as not to impact student learning.”
Moving forward, Peters suggested that a table be set up during summer registration in which parents can accept or decline insurance for the chromebooks. On August 27, sophomores and juniors who had already paid insurance can pick them up, and take them home to charge the devices so they are ready to go on the first day of school. In allowing for this early pick up, staff can then shift focus to distributing chromebooks for the incoming freshmen.
Overall administrators and teachers feel the initiative has been very successful with students.
“We’re passionate about using the chromebooks in a way that strengthens our curriculum,” Ledgerwood said.
“We definitely feel the Chromebook Initiative is a great success,” Peters said. “We are confident in seeing positive growth as we continue this over the next few years.”
Parents and community members can learn more about the Chromebook Initiative at the High School Career Academy Open House on March 23.
School board members also heard a presentation on the districts food service program and were introduced to some of the healthy snacks being offered in the ala carte program.
Marquardt shared with board members how the districts health coach, Allison Beck, has been a positive voice to encourage employees to share healthy snacks and offer ways to improve their health and well-being.
As a way to show board members how the district is committed to promoting health and eating healthy foods, Marquardt wanted to start introducing a series of food service as a topic to be discussed during the school board meetings.
As an introduction to the series, Jim Madden from Taher, Inc. and Sherie Bressler, the district’s Food Service Manager, highlighted some of the changes to the food service program.
Changes began in 2012 with new lunch standards. Districts were required to serve whole grain foods, students were required to take servings of fruits and vegetables, and there were new calorie requirements.
In 2013 breakfast standards changed. In addition to the whole grain foods, the amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables doubled from what it was previously.
According to Madden, the biggest challenge is the recent changes to snack foods or ala carte food. The ala carte items are now whole grains, low sodium, low fat, and smaller portioned.
“Students are used to buying snacks outside of school,” Madden said. “What they now see in school is different from what they had at home or when they go out to eat.”
To demonstrate the changes students are seeing in taste and size of foods, board members, administrators, and audience members in attendance at the meeting, were able to try chocolate chip cookies that are now offered in the district. The sample was a whole grain cookie, under 200 calories, and low sodium.
“It’s not what your normal cookie would taste like,” Madden said. “The kids can taste the difference and see the difference.”
Other samples shown where Rice Krispie Treats made with brown rice; baked potato chips that are bagged in smaller portions; and whole grain bagels that are darker and smaller in size compared to previously offered bagels.
The student acceptance of all the changes made to the food service program has been slow and because of it sales are effected.
According to Madden, ala carte sales are down by 32 percent, breakfast participation is down by 1.4 percent, and lunch participation is down by 2.3 percent. In addition food costs have gone up, which has a negative impact on the budget.
Despite all the changes to the food service program, the district is looking for new items to add to the menus for all kids.
“We are looking to give more of what the kids want,” Madden said. “Similar items they used to have without the higher calories and higher sodium.”
Some items have already been brought back to the high school lunches. Calzones were very popular among the students and are back with whole grain crust and smaller size. Premium meals are back with the newest being grilled melt baskets.
New recipes will be introduced monthly and some examples are: Taco Boat, Ham Broccoli Bake, Meatloaf Sandwich, and Parmesan Chicken Bites. The food service program is also looking to add new ala carte snacks as they become available.
A 10-year Capital Projects Plan was approved by school board members at the Feb. 23 special board of education meeting.
The plan includes a list of projects costing more than $10,000 and notes the expected replacement year. This list will be modified on an ongoing basis and can be viewed on the districts website, under the Business Services page.
“It’s a working document that is constantly updated but serves as our guide in long-term budgeting for capital projects,” Marquardt said.
In conjunction with the capital projects list, board members also passed a resolution authorizing the creation of Fund 46, a long-term capital improvement fund.
“By creating this fund we can begin saving for capital projects without a negative effect on equalization aid,” Marquardt said. “Previously, if we set aside funds for future projects, shared costs were adversely affected and resulted in a decrease in equalization aid, which resulted in higher property taxes.”
The funds can only be used for items that are a part of the capital projects plan, and cannot be used until five years after the adoption by the school board.