2010-05-06 / Youth

Getting technical

PAISD kicks technology up a notch
BY PHIL REYNOLDS

If frequent changes make you nervous, you don’t want Leif Johnson’s job.

Part of his job is teaching Spanish at Port Aransas High School. Not a whole lot of change there.

The other part is director of technology for Port Aransas ISD, and in that part of his job, Johnson can see change on an hour-by-hour basis, if not minuteby minute.

Last year, technology was the big grant beneficiary from the Port Aransas Education Foundation, with $10,000 going toward new computers. Next year, Johnson said, he wants to consolidate that hardware with teachers who can teach other teachers.

A critical step this year was installing a distance learning center in the school board meeting room, a central spot where students can go to take courses that aren’t available at Port Aransas.

That gave the district “the most bang for its buck,” Johnson said, because of the chances it offers students and the opportunities for teachers’ professional development.

The center is already connected with Education Service Center II, the regional education center that serves 42 school districts in the area. On May 14, Johnson expects a connection to the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi for a program.

“The distance learning center can take us to almost anywhere, and there’s a bunch of networks that expand even that,” Johnson said.

Administrators, for instance, can sit in via technology on hearings conducted in Austin by the Texas Education Agency.

But next year, Johnson wants to install a portable center that can be wheeled to any classroom to connect with other centers, just as though the kids were in the board room. For that, he’ll seek a federal grant that would allow him to, in effect, take the distance learning center right into classrooms – possibly, more than one classroom at a time.

He’s already started distributing the tiny portable computers known as netbooks; while they’re not high-powered laptop computers, they’re sufficient for word processing and about anything else a student should need to do.

He also wants to spread a wireless network throughout the high school, overlapping so that, as he said, “You can be working on a program and move anywhere in the building without losing a beat.”

All 64 classrooms on all three campuses – H.G. Olsen Elementary, Brundrett Middle School and the high school – can already connect to the Internet. Johnson’s vision would make it possible to connect no matter where you are in the school, as long as your computer has wireless capability.

He’s also interested in getting teachers more comfortable with the new technology.

“Teachers have to feel comfortable with it before they can bring it into the classroom,” he said.

And because third-party training is so expensive, Johnson envisions recruiting some teachers to become “trainers of trainers” – people who attend the training, and then can teach others how to use it.

All this while they’re staying ahead of students.

Johnson said computers in the high school’s first-floor computer lab need to be updated. And he’s hoping to get a vendor to come in and accept the old computers for disposal at no cost to the school district. Computers contain heavy metals and other materials that shouldn’t be just dumped in the trash.

All this doesn’t come cheap.

The proposed budget for technology for the 2010-2011 school year is $50,000- $60,000.

The district’s technology plan for 2010-2013 notes that the technology expenditure per pupil is $741.11. With 550 students in the district, that totals $259,110.50 But all three campuses are connected to the Internet and there’s a computer for every two students and one per teacher.

“It’s a tremendous resource,” Johnson said.

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