Education

Mahopac Schools Continue Technology Upgrades

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Mahopac School District will purchase 600 more Chromebooks thanks to the Smart School Bond.
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MAHOPAC, N.Y.— The Mahopac Central School District is about to get a little smarter.

The Smart School Bond Act, a state measure approved by voters in 2014, allocated $3.1 million in funds to improve the district’s technology, which it has been doing incrementally for the past year. At a Board of Education meeting earlier this month, officials announced that its third purchase using Smart School Bond funds will include 600 new Chromebooks.

“The third submission [for Smart School Bond money] will put more Chromebooks in students’ hands at the secondary level,” said Dr. Greg Stowell, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel and educational services, who oversees the district’s technology program.

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As computers, the internet and myriad online platforms, begin to play a larger role in education, the district’s goal has been to improve the technology throughout its buildings, such as expanding bandwidth to make the internet faster and provide students with the devices they’ll need, such as the Chromebooks, to utilize it.

But school officials note they didn’t want to spend all $3.1 million in one fell swoop because technology can become outdated and obsolete quickly. So, instead, the plan is to spread out the purchases and upgrades over a period of several years so they can take advantage of whatever cutting-edge technology is available at that time.

The district’s technology plan for 2015-18 will upgrade/expand wireless infrastructure; upgrade/expand network infrastructure; expand the use of security cameras; install electronic access doors, and expand the number of instructional devices for students throughout the district.

The district had to spell out its long-term plan for the Smart School Bond money and have it approved by the state. Stowell said Mahopac’s technology plan identified gaps in the district’s infrastructure that needed to be addressed in order for the expansion of instructional technology to take place. He noted that some of the IT infrastructure is approaching end-of-life and will need to be upgraded to accommodate the rapid growth of instructional technology in the classroom. In conjunction with the infrastructure upgrades, the students’ and teachers’ devices will enhance and expand the offering of instructional technology.

In addition to the 600 Chromebooks (which are small, lightweight laptops), the district will also purchase 11 charging carts for the Chromebooks.

“This will significantly increase student access to technology, online access, and collaborative student-centered learning opportunities,” the district said in a statement. “The district will be able to provide equitable access to technology tools that can prepare students to be college and career ready. The state Education Department is moving toward mandated online testing of math and ELA state exams so the district needs to work toward becoming compliant with pending computer-based testing requirements. The district’s overall expenditure plan will help to meet that mandate.”

The 600 Chromebooks will cost a little more than $196,000, bringing the total amount of its Smart School Bond money it spent so far to $1,056,303. The district still has $2,124,806 of the total allocation of $3,181,109 yet to spend.

Stowell said the district is transitioning to a “Google district,” meaning it is utilizing Google Education, a Google program that provides productivity tools, devices and other platforms that are changing the way that teachers teach and students learn.

“The use of Google Drive, which is where we keep all our files and where everything happens, is experiencing an astronomical increase in usage,” Stowell told the School Board during his presentation on the Chromebook purchase. “Google Drawings is up 334 percent; Google Sheets, which is like Excel, is up 99 percent; Google Forms is up 85 percent; our Documents are up 57 percent; our uploads are up 42 percent. And that is just since July. So, we are experiencing a huge increase on the student end so that is why this third submission (for the 600 Chromebooks) is so important.”

School officials said they are particularly taking advantage of a program called Google Classrooms, where teachers interact with students. Teachers can post assignments, post information, post feedback, and students and teachers communicate.

“On Nov. 14, 368 classrooms were created by our staff and that’s amazing,” Stowell said. “Our teachers have taken this initiative and run with it.  And this is why we went [with upgrading the] infrastructure first--so we could handle the bandwidth.”

The district finished its infrastructure upgrades in one last building on Martin Luther King Day, while school was out of session.

Officials said the next purchase with the Smart School Bond will focus on security and will likely include upgraded security systems; cameras; and doors with card-swiping access.

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