Consultant: Schools need tech upgrade
Are Port Aransas ISD students laboring to learn with outdated, insufficient technology?
In some cases, that’s true, according to a report delivered to the school board at its Thursday, March 8, meeting.
However, the board also heard that action is already under way to correct some of the problems identified in the report, and trustees agreed to take steps to make some of those corrections happen.
Technology consultant Trish Panknin told trustees that she spent four days looking at the district’s technology. She told the board she met with teachers, students, parents and administrators seeking the answers to some questions: What do they have? What do they need? What are they not using?
She said she found that tech support is lacking from administrators and technicians.
“Principals want to use technology,” she said, “But there’s no one to help teachers integrate technology into their curricula.”
She told the board that teachers at Port Aransas High School “had great things to say” about the support they get, but that teachers at H.G. Olsen Elementary School and Brundrett Middle School reported they sometimes had to wait too long to get answers to questions.
“Follow-up needs to be on somebody’s plate,” she said, referring to the need to have a staff member stay with a request to make sure it’s completed.
“Skill levels (in technology) vary widely among teachers,” she pointed out, and criticized the district’s lack of online tutorials to help teachers become better acquainted with some of the technology available to them.
She also said connectivity is a major problem, especially when computers either don’t connect to the Internet, or drop the connection once it’s been established.
“All they know is when they turn on the computer and it doesn’t connect,” Panknin said, “teachers and students get frustrated, and when they’re frustrated, they tend to go less often to the (computer) lab.”
She emphasized the need for teachers to be able to connect with each other, with students and with parents, but said, “Most teachers don’t know about, or understand, networking.”
Panknin’s other points:
• Many of the programs used in the classroom, especially for things like e-mail, aren’t compatible with programs students and parents have available at home
• There is no standard for computers in the classroom – some are old, and some classrooms only have a couple of computers
• Students want newer and more rapid technology; they consistently requested iPads and laptops
“Schools can buy online programs to help teachers teach,” she said. “Technology is not a separate thing in the classroom. It’s something we use to teach.”
The board also heard that steps already have been taken to remedy some of the problems Panknin found, however, and agreed in a separate agenda item to create a designated technology fund in the district’s annual budget.
High school librarian Pamela Voyles, who’s also the district’s instructional materials and textbook coordinator, told trustees that new Texas Education Agency (TEA) rules allow money that once could only be spent for hard cover books to now be spent for other instructional materials.
She gave as an example the recent purchase of calculators for students.
“Because they’re instructional aids, they’re allowable under the TEA rules,” she said.
“We were once limited to buying textbooks,” she added, “but now students are learning in a completely different way.”
However, school districts don’t have free rein. The legislature last year, in creating the instructional materials allotments, said, “Priority must be given to foundation curriculum subjects for which the essential knowledge and skills have been substantially revised and for which assessment instruments are required to satisfy foundation curriculum requirements.”
School districts get a two-year allotment, and must allocate funds throughout the two-year period. For Port Aransas, the instructional materials allotment totals $84,965, superintendent Dr. Sharon Doughty told the board.
Doughty also asked the board to approve issuing a request for proposals (RFP) to make all three Port Aransas ISD campuses wireless.
She said she recommends a project that will “provide the wireless environment that will support current and future needs of the district. Of course, the question of, ‘How much do we need in the future?’ is a moving target. Approximately 30 percent of this year’s (Port Aransas Education Foundation) grant requests included instruction and devices that would include technology.”
Doughty said she would ask technicians at the Education Service Center Region 2 to help the district work out a RFP for the project.