MAHOPAC, N.Y.— In his 2014 State of the State Address, Governor Cuomo called on New York to invest $2 billion in its schools through a Smart Schools Bond Act (SSBA)—an initiative aimed at financing educational technology and infrastructure and providing students with access to the latest technology and connectivity needed to succeed in a global economy.
The Mahopac School District was allocated close to $3.2 million of the SSBA money and immediately laid out a plan on how it would use it. The act requires that a review board approve each district’s Smart Schools Investment Plan before any funds can be made available to them. So far, Mahopac has engaged in three rounds of spending, laying out a little more than $1 million of its allotted funds.
At this month’s Board of Education meeting, during an SSBA public hearing, school officials announced a fourth round of purchases totaling $899,400 for 2,470 Chromebooks, its largest SSBA purchase to date.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Greg Stowell, who oversees the district’s technology, and Galit Price, technology coordinator for the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center, gave the board a presentation at its Sept. 14 meeting on how the district is using the money and changing how technology is utilized and the way students learn.
“This was our fourth installment (SSBA purchase) and probably our most important proposal,” Stowell told the board. “We are here to discuss where we are as a district and how we got here, and the roadmap for how we seamlessly integrate technology with progressive instruction.”
The district has used much of its funds so far to purchase hundreds of Chromebooks, small lightweight laptops, which are all integrated by students and teachers in Google for Education classrooms.
“You think of a Google classroom as a hub where information is exchanged and the students can then interact digitally with the teacher,” said Dr. Adam Pease, assistant superintendent, in a video that was part of Stowell and Price’s presentation. “So, all the things you think of as paper passed back and forth, historically, have now become electronic. People think of Google as a search engine, but behind that search engine are a lot of education [aids] and we’ve tapped into that over the years. And all those things are interfacing with our teachers now. Think of it as a teacher’s dashboard, a place where they can coordinate their units, their projects and assignments. It’s a jumping-off point.”
Teacher Mike Evers said in the video that incorporating this technology into the classroom has gotten the students’ attention.
“I see students who tend to get a little bored who are now much more engaged,” he said. “Now, I am in their world. They are able to click on an app and it comes to life. I can get instant feedback and target my instruction based on some of their deficiencies. It’s a very, very exciting time to be teaching here and an exciting time to be a student.”
Student Rebekah Lazar noted in the video that with Google classrooms, dodging homework is no longer an option.
“Everything is all together and organized. You can’t really forget your homework because it is always right there,” she said. “It’s extremely efficient.”
It has become an important tool for parents as well.
“Parents can get updates as to what assignments are due and what assignments are missing,” Pease said. “They can log on with their student at home and see what’s going on. It’s really changing education.”
Since January, Price said, the district saw a marked increase the number of those utilizing the programs. Between January and June, use of Google Docs was up 54 percent; Google Sheets increased 98 percent; Google Slides was up 68 percent; Google Forms jumped 67 percent; and Google Drawings use rose 38 percent.
“And from March to June, the average daily teacher posts are up 113 percent,” Price said. “I think we are getting something like 300 posts a day and one of the most exciting things is that 65 percent of our student body is using it.”
Stowell said that Mahopac’s use of the SSBA funds was deliberately calculated. School officials noted that when they first received the money, they decided not to spend it all in one fell swoop because technology can become obsolete overnight. Instead, they would develop a integration plan and make incremental purchases over time to help facilitate that plan.
“We did not get here by accident,” Stowell aid. “This was a thoughtful collaboration of curriculum, instruction and technology. If we [give] out 4,300 Chromebooks to the kids but didn’t provide staff with professional development, we wouldn’t see data like this. We had a long journey to get to where we are now.”
Here’s how the district has spent its SSBA money so far:
• First round: $186,538 for 540 touchscreen Chromebooks and 18 storage/charging carts;
• Second round: $673,060 for the upgrade and expansion of wireless and network infrastructure and 540 touchscreen Chromebooks and some storage/charging carts;
• Third round (spending still in progress): $196,704 for 600 touchscreen Chromebooks and storage/charging carts;
• Fourth round: $899,400 for 2,470 Chromebooks.
“We purchase these items and then are reimbursed [through the SSBA] for the whole cost, so it’s no additional cost to the taxpayer,” Stowell explained. “We did this thoughtfully over a long period of time.”
School Superintendent Dr. Dennis Creedon agreed.
“We did this smartly and we had the support of a lot of people,” Creedon said. “I want to thank the Board of Education for allowing us to go down this road and take this journey and supporting us. I want to thank our teachers and our students, everyone who chimed in and took a risk and explored and allowed there to be successes.”
Future initiatives for SSBA allocations include the expansion of the schools’ security systems (cameras, doors, access).
“We are already working on that and a presentation will come sometime later this year,” Price said.
Creedon said that the field of education is changing rapidly and it’s important for Mahopac to remain on the cutting edge.
“The excitement is growing. Education is changing and our children are now being empowered with the tools to actually take control of their own learning,” he said. “We are the facilitators. We want our children to own their knowledge. The technology we are infusing into our schools will allow our students to use a variety of creative methods to actually own their knowledge and have the experiences that will enrich them and hopefully enable them to have the power to never stop learning.”