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Thursday, March 22 Local

IT dept looks to future for next tech plan

The 2013-15 technology plan doesn't need to be fully implemented for district administrators to start considering planning for 2015 and beyond.

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One of those goals for the 2015-18 technology plan, according to Christina Hefele, the technology coordinator, is to define the district's mobile device strategy and potentially moving to a one-to-one model within the schools, so that every student works on their own device. In a one-to-one model, one student would use one piece of technology.

"We've been running a number of pilots," Hefele said, adding that students are using everything from Google Chromebooks to surface tablets to Apple iPads to Windows tablets within the schools to determine what is the right fit for the district.

Hefele told the Board of Education that the inclusion of teachers and parents in the planning for the 2015-18 technology plan will be important to gain different input. At a later date, she added, a student representative will also be included in the planning team.

But how does a district plan for technology upgrades three years in the future when technology changes so rapidly? Hefele said it's more about having a general idea of what the district will need, not so much what exact piece of technology they will buy.

"So, for example, this year, we just decided to replace (mobile carts) with Chromebooks," Hefele said.

Each of the schools has a cart that is outfitted with 25 laptops that is used as a portable computer lab in the classroom.

"We know we need to replace them, but we don't always know three years ahead of time what we're going to replace them with, so we earmark it based on the cost of what it is to replace them," Hefele said. "We make the decision of what to replace them with based on what the teachers are doing that time and what technology is out there. It allows us to make a plan, but not say `Well, we have laptops, we're automatically going to replace them with laptops.' "

Just recently, the mobile carts at Middlesex Middle School were upgraded with Chromebooks, of which there are 125 in the district, according to Jeff Adams, director of IT. Hefele told the Board of Education in January that the school needed something that "boots up quickly and has a long battery life."

The laptops that were in place before would be used for an hour and a half, but then would need to be charged for several hours.

Another goal, Hefele said, is for the district to define its mobile strategy.

"Will we move to a true one-to-one model?" Hefele said. "Will students be bringing their own devices to school? Will the district provide devices?"

Hefele said there is one math teacher at the high school that is testing a one-to-one model in a multi-variable calculus class. In March, Hefele will provide an update to the board about the various pilots that took place in the district over the course of the school year.

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"I hope that with the new superintendent we can decide was our new mobile strategy is," Hefele said.

Surrounding districts are all using different technology strategies, Hefele said.

"Some districts are successful," Hefele said. "Some aren't."

In the 2014-15 budget, $413,000 is being allocated for the implementation of the final year of the 2013-15 technology plan. Some of that money, $100,000, will be used to upgrade the mobile carts in the elementary schools.

The implementation of the Smarter Balanced field test, which must be taken on computers, has been taken into account for the purchases of the mobile units, but was not the primary factor in determining what was purchased.

"We didn't want to make decision based on testing," Hefele said. "We wanted to make decisions based on what the teachers wanted to bring into the classroom."

During the scheduled testing time, 40 students in the elementary school and 125 in the middle school will be tested at the same time. Darien High School is still determining the testing schedule. Hefele said that the high school has an adequate number of computer labs to handle the test-taking students.

The purchase of 20 new SMARTBoards for the middle school at a cost of $40,000 is in the proposed 2014-15 Board of Education budget. There are currently 180 SMARTBoards in the district, according to Adams, and the purchase of the 20 new boards will complete the three-year plan for installing the technology in all the classrooms.

The district is currently on a five-year upgrade rotation with the technology, according to Adams. The district was once on a three-year cycle though it became financially burdensome.

"It's a nasty cycle," Adams said. "It's like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. Once you're done, you start over again."

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews