LIVINGSTON, NJ - The implementation of technology initiatives was the principal topic of concern for both parents and administrators at the Board of Education voting meeting on Monday night.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Mary Oates and acting interim Superintendent Steven Robinson advocated the hiring of an outside educational consultant to help the district implement new technical equipment at all levels.
Oates and Robinson also estimated the need for 1,000 Google Chromebooks to be purchased for use in PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) Testing for next year. The district has been experimenting with testing by using desktops, laptops and Chromebooks this year.
“We found the Chromebooks to be more stable—no crashes were reported,” Oates said. “It was the easiest device to use when students had to move from classroom to classroom and the battery life was superior [to other options].”
The board was unanimous in its approval for requisitioning the services of an outside consultant to gauge the district’s technology needs, with caveats. Board member Arthur Altman stressed the need to have the consultant operate on a fixed-cost contract with a set schedule and achievable milestones. He also suggested the possibility of leasing the Chromebooks or sharing the cost with a neighboring district.
Board members Leslie Winograd and David Jasin also questioned the need to pay for a product that might only achieve optimal use for a short period of time each year (PARCC testing takes place over two two-week periods in March, April and May).
“I’m not saying we don’t need the [Chromebooks] but are we not going to use our existing technological infrastructure at all for [PARCC testing]?” Jasin asked.
The acquisition and implementation of the Chromebooks will help students who are taking the tests, while maintaining the existing infrastructure for instructional purposes, according to Oates.
“The idea is that, in the long run, the Chromebooks will be cost-effective without interrupting instructional time,” she said.
Board president Barry Funt also emphasized that the instruments should be delivered well before the testing date, so as to acclimate the students to its uses.
The promise of a cohesive and unified technology plan to be implemented this summer lead to several parents decrying the effort as too little, far too late. During the public comment section of the meeting, multiple parents accused the Board and district administrators of lollygagging with the implementation of technological initiatives, with charged phrases such as “embarrassing” and “ridiculous” used to describe past district efforts.
“It’s not just about giving them the hardware,” resident Cherylyn Paredes said. “It’s about teaching [students] to think in a way that incorporates new technology. We need to prepare our kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet and we’re not doing that. We’re putting our youngest learners at risk.”
Paredes cited conversations with her children, students at Burnet Hill elementary, which indicated that their time spent on a computer has been minimal at best.
“In the district I work in, Rockaway Township, students are spending time every week using technology. They don’t have the resources we have and we’re at least five years behind them.”
Many other parents echoed Pardedes’ disappointment with the apparent lack of progress, with several noting that they moved to Livingston specifically for the well-regarded school district. One parent accused the board of repeating the same rhetoric used at the beginning of the year. Another pointed out that constructing a technological plan during the summer would be inhibitive, as teachers need time during the summer to train in the use of Chromebooks and other technology before school begins.
Funt maintained that the Board will do its utmost to deal with the concerns in an appropriate timeframe.
“Believe me, we’re hearing everything you’re saying and we take it very seriously,” he said.