SPARTA, NJ – The Sparta school district is preparing to launch a 1:1 initiative.  The plan calls for each student from grades six through 12 to receive a Chromebook to use at school and to take home as well.  Each elementary class room will have a cart of computers so that every student kindergarten through fifth grade will have a device at school.

Teachers will get a “slightly different more professional device,” according to Superintendent Dr. Michael Rossi. 

District administrators, teachers and technology department staff presented the 1:1 initiative to the board members and community at the February board of education meeting on Monday.

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This is not completely new.  The district began to pilot an initiative two years ago, in certain classrooms where teachers were using Google Apps for Classroom also known as GS uite.  The initiative had students using familiar Google applications such as docs, calendar, sheets, hangout and more. 

Rossi explained how the equipment would be deployed.  Beyond that he said the vision for the project was to “prepare students for jobs in a workplace that will be vastly different then it is now,” a theme returned to several times throughout the presentation.

The district expects to “increase communication and collaboration” experiences with the initiative as well as “decrease turnaround time in teacher response to the students,” according to Rossi.

Other anticipated broad stroke benefits of the program include “allowing students to work at their own pace, individualized instruction and making instruction current and relevant.”

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Staff Development Dr. Daniel Johnson spoke about a concept he called “TraDigital; blending what we already know works with what we want to do in the future.” 

The seeds of support for the initiative were planed thought community efforts.  Rossi pointed to Sparta school district’s strategic plan that had been created by the community through a series of meeting in 2014.  “I know the time invested in creating it and the pride [the community] has in it.” 

After the vision, came the first steps of bringing 1:1 to reality.  Rossi said “the 1:1 initiative only comes on the heels of investments from the Sparta Education Foundation.”

What followed in the presentation was a parade of district staff speaking about what the 1:1 initiative means in their area of education. 

Sparta High School English teacher Brent Rivers has enthusiastically piloted the program in his classrooms.  His students work nearly exclusively on the Chromebooks, requiring “less time managing papers and more time spent on instruction.”  Rivers said in the past resources relevant to the lesson would be identified but it would be a day or more of getting the copies into the hands of the students.  “Now we can immediately share videos or docs.”

“The Google drive makes everything accessible,” Rivers said, “without the excuse of loss or forgotten papers.” 

Students get immediate feedback on their writing, from the teacher as well as peers, using the various G-Suite apps. 

Rivers also said assessments are more streamlined, start to finish. 

“What we are already doing well, we can do better,” Rivers said.  “I have already seen an impact in just a few years.”

District Instructional Technology Coordinator Melissa Postorino continued to talk about the communication and collaboration component of the initiative.  “It will enhance our students individual educational journey,” Postorino said.  “They will be able to connect in group learning” through projects with peers in their classroom “and outside of Sparta.” 

Postorino reiterated the value of the G Suite tools, allowing students and teachers to access work at home.  The initiative “addresses International Society for Technology in Education Standard number seven.”

The ISTE Standards describe the skills and knowledge students need to learn effectively and live productively in an increasingly global and digital society, according to the global education organization.

Ken Scognamiglio’s enthusiasm mirrored Rivers’ as he shared the anecdote, “I remember telling Mike (Cronin) ‘I need to get those.’” Scognamiglio, an environmentally conscious Biology teacher said, “We use a ridiculous amount of paper,” in the classroom. He reports he is “98 percent paperless” in his classroom since piloting the program.   He explained “no more copies, no more scantrons.”

G Suite “makes education more efficient and easier.” Picking up on Rivers’ thoughts on tests.  They are created on the computer using a Google App that allows for immediate feedback, to both the student and the teacher.  “This makes test taking a better way to know what they’ve learned.”

Scognamiglio shared that his website has a video on every lesson.  “Students are never really absent from the classroom,” adding he could envision this taking the place of snow days, though that suggestion was not unanimously seen as a good thing.

Google tools translate well to the science classroom. Scogmiglio demonstrated with several slides of student work. 

Patrick Chodkiewicz District Instructional Technology Coordinator shared his thoughts about expanding the opportunity for individualized, differentiated instruction with the 1:1 initiative.  He emphasized the efficiency of having all documents in one place, accessible at all times for staff and students, along with the opportunities to share and collaborate. 

Special Education teacher Katie Nieves expounded on Chodkiewicz’s statements, especially for the special education student.  Nieves said student’s lessons and even the device can be tailored for their individual needs. 

A lesson can be modified or supplemented “without being obvious to others in the room” because it is all on the computer.  The computer can be “modified with applications, extensions and add-ons to meet the needs in the student’s Individual Education Plan.” She shared examples such as voice to text, extreme spell check and read back.  Organizational features will also be helpful and time saving in a special education classroom. 

“I can see the revision process,” Nieves said.  “I can see key stroke by key stroke to understand their mindset,” when creating a document. 

Rossi said he has experienced 1:1 in another district, sharing collaborative lessons he had seen where were students working with peers around the world. 

Johnson talked about the plan for providing professional development for teachers.  The four-stage Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition or SAMR plan expects staff to move up at least one level in proficiency each year.   

“We want transformation without losing what makes us Sparta,” Johnson said.

The district’s technology infrastructure is being prepared for 2000 additional devices in September.  Network Systems Specialist Steven Rendle discussed adopting an additional filter to be loaded on the devices keeping students safe and on task.  Lightspeed Rocket is used when the students are on campus and GoGuardian follows them home.

Addressing the question of “why Chromebooks?” Technology Coordinator Mike Cronin said they “log in and turn on instantly where windows based machines can take three to 12 minutes and the battery life is longer because there are no other programs running in the background.”

Other factors included:

  • “seamless integration with GAFE, which is built into the operating system,
  • centralized management options for teachers and the technology department
  • price point compared to Windows and Apple devices
  • reduced energy consumption (using 65-85 percent less energy that standard lap tops)
  • durability”

Board member Melva Cummings asked if future plans included getting a device for the elementary students to bring home.  Johnson said they would be evaluating how well the middle school students did with the responsibility before making any plans.

All teachers Kindergarten through grade 12 will be getting new machines, according to Cronin.  He also explained they will be purchased with a four-year lease.    Interim Business Administrator Anthony Mistretta later explained the cost would be $400,000 and will be included in the 2017-2018 budget. 

Johnson laid out the rest of the long-range plan for replacement: 

  • In 2017 all students grade six through 12 will receive Chromebooks, some new and some currently in use in the district.  Grades four and five will have Chromebook carts for the classroom.
  • Kindergarten through third grade will use other machines already in district, Cronin later clarified.
  •  In 2018 they would start to replace student machines at Mohawk Avenue School and Alpine Elementary School with Chromebook carts. They would also be replacing graduating seniors’ Chromebooks. 
  • In 2019 all machines at Mohawk Avenue School and Alpine Elementary School would be replaced along with graduating seniors’ Chromebooks.
  • In 2020 all graduating seniors’ and eighth grade students Chromebooks will be replaced. 

In addition to professional development for the staff, Rossi said Parent Institute nights are planned, to help parents learn how to use the G-Suite tools and Chromebooks. 

Rossi and Johnson fielded questions from the audience. 

Q: Will this replace text books?

A: Rossi said he did not think the initiative would eliminate textbooks, adding the resources are on-line. 

Q: What if a student already has their own device?

A: The district is using Chromebooks to keep consistency of platform, allows district to push out apps and extension that the public might not have access to and allows for control over the programs.

Q: Is there a privacy issue?

A: The district is reviewing the current privacy policy.

Q: Is it the board’s feeling there should be more homework by bringing the classroom into the home?

A: No not more homework, but a change to the homework.  The classroom is already available to them at home on a home computer if they choose.

Q: What does the extended classroom look like?  When does the school day end?

A: That needs to be an ongoing discussion.

The next Sparta Board of Education meeting is scheduled for March 13.  Mistretta said the budget would be discussed in more detail at that meeting.