The Montclair School District has just announced what it calls, “the most ambitious plan in its history to ensure innovation resources reach every classroom in the District.”
The district states that an internal audit conducted this spring by newly hired District Technology Director Barry Haines, found an inequitable divide within the District, with some schools having an 11:1 student-to-computer ratio, while other schools had a 3:1 ratio. In addition, the audit found that the current, shared school internet connection barely provided students and teachers with the needed bandwidth to access the key foundations for digital learning. More specifically the audit found that the broadband connection provided the same speed that a single home using a connection such as dial up provided in the mid-1990s.
“Montclair has the most highly effective teachers and principals in the state, yet our schools are fending for themselves when it comes to technology and innovation. We need to ensure our District does not become a series of “have” and “have not” schools,” stated Superintendent of Schools Dr. Penny MacCormack.
“All of our schools deserve to be 21st century learning environments, and we must listen and adapt to the needs and requests of our school leaders. Last year, because of a lack of school resources, some teachers brought their own technology devices to teach in our classrooms. In other cases, teachers worked in classrooms that did not even have an effective internet connection. As a former teacher, I am committed to ensuring each teacher in our district has the tools they need to succeed. Our teachers and students deserve both the best resources and a long-term strategy to address this issue,” she added.
To address these findings, the District launched the first stage of its Equity Innovation Plan this summer. The following actions have taken place since May and will be completed near the beginning of the school year:
- Remediation of the network, enabling District schools to connect to the internet service provider with upgraded bandwidth from 100 MB to 1 GB – a ten-fold increase.
- Replacement of outdated network equipment in all buildings to align with the newly increased bandwidth and maximize its effectiveness.
- Procurement of mobile computers for all secondary teachers in grades 6 through 12 as part of the District’s current investment in technology.
- Installation of state-of-the-art projectors and new whiteboards in 88 core content high school classrooms that replace the pre-1950s chalkboards. This will allow teachers to bring in Web 2.0 resources such as: primary resources in social studies, peer-review capabilities in language arts, manipulatives to understand mathematics concepts, and the ability to project software resources to better understand science concepts.
Board of Education President David Deutsch is happy with the plan.
“Every child in the District should have access to a 21st century classroom and we start by ensuring innovation equity.” says Deutsch. “As a community, we share the responsibly to ensure that all, not some, schools have strong Wi-Fi and needed computers in the classroom. I commend the work of both Superintendent MacCormack and Mr. Haines for showcasing, and then acting, on this issue for the community. Creating this Technology Equity Plan is a long-term investment for our teachers and our community and will ensure that our students can compete in the future.”
Montclair High School principal, James Earle says the investment is long overdue. “For too long we have talked about a District investment in technology and innovation. We have held community discussions on the issue. I have personally pleaded that we look to modernize our classrooms, yet there has been no action. Today’s investment and the specific steps we are taking are simply long overdue and will make a real difference when we open our school doors in the fall.”
Brian Ford, a teacher at the high school agrees:
Some people (with whom I agree on many other criticisms of the BOE) have questioned the necessity of the tech upgrades and say the money could be better spent elsewhere. I can understand where they are coming from. I would love to hire more teachers to reduce class size or look into restoring health benefits to all teachers’ aides. Also, yes, technology is no panacea — it has to be available, working, understood, and implemented well — it’s not the tool , it’s how you use it. I also believe we need block scheduling more than anything else — but that is a different debate, I suppose.
All that said, the high school was behind other schools in the district and behind many other high schools. Upgrades were sorely needed. It was downright frustrating to teach there sometimes. Some of the upgrades simply get us to where other high schools, including the one where I taught my first 6 years, in 2007 or so. I know it will help morale to enter a building that is more conducive to dynamic instruction. Simple, basic things like plug-and-play projectors in every room and no more videos stalling go a long way for teachers. The availability of laptop (Chromebook) carts with working wireless internet will ease some of the competition for limited computer lab and library space, and can transform a lesson.
Phase I of the District’s Innovation Equity Plan was conducted during the 2014 spring and summer months. Further plans and an outline of Phase II priorities will be announced during the fall of the school year.
The district has stated, and show in this report, that improvements in technology are long overdue and not solely to facilitate the new online exams schools will take this year to align with the Common Core State Standards —Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams (PARCC).