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Lora Taira, chief information officer of School District 65, presented a three-year technology plan to the District 65 School Board on Feb. 25. The plan, required to be filed with the Illinois State Board of Education using a prescribed format, states a goal for each year in terms of meeting the Annual Yearly Progress Goals of the No Child Left Behind Act, and states strategies and activities to meet the goals in areas of instruction, professional development, and technology deployment.

As an example, the plan states two “strategies” to improve instruction: “effective use of digital tools and resources in everyday instruction” and “ensure instructional technologies are used to address the learning needs of low income students, students with disabilities, and English language learners.”

The “activities” to implement these strategies include: “Instructional facilitators continue to support teachers within the classroom on the use of digital tools and resources, co-teaching when necessary; students are engaged in solving authentic problems; students and teachers will use collaborative software(such as Edmodo, wikis) to share work and ideas; pilot the use of mobile devices (e.g., iPods) and other technologies to assist in vocabulary and language development for the identified subgroups; include adaptive and assistive technologies where appropriate both in the development of IEPs and in the delivery of instruction…”

Ms. Taira also presented a budget for the plan which itemizes infrastructure work and equipment purchases in the first year. Some of the major expenditures are: wireless density improvement ($369,000), VMare cluster expansion to improve login and syncing files ($200,000), replace 1,809 student laptops and desktops that are over five-years old ($2.3 million), replace 300 administrative personal computers ($300,000), replace 150 projectors ($222,000), purchase 95 chromebooks for a pilot ($52,250), and purchase/license software ($104,000).

 The total cost for the infrastructure work and new equipment in the first year is $4.1 million, $3.6 million of which would be financed through a four-year lease. The budget reflects that payments totaling $2,074,000 would be made in the first year: $906,000 for an annual lease payment under the new four-year lease; $502,000 for other current expenses incurred in year one; and $666,000 due under prior leases.

The budget anticipates that this amount would be paid out of the proceeds of bonds issued by the District that are subject to the limitations of the District’s debt service extension base.

Board’s Reaction

Board member Richard Rykhus acknowledged that the District was constrained by the State’s template in preparing its technology plan. He asked, though, that administrators prepare a document stating, “what is our vision for technology in the District, what will it look like over the next phase of our evolution, what will people be doing  – and that means the teachers, the students, maybe the parents, the administrators), how will that look different and how will that enable them in a different way.”

He also asked for an explanation of how the technology plan fits into student learning, collaboration among teachers, and administrative tasks. He said there’s pieces of that in the plan being submitted to ISBE, “but it’s not brought together in a way to help tell a story.”

Tracy Quattrocki said she attended one of the forums held to gather input for the plan. She said teachers “uniformly said we need more training. We need more help in learning how to transform our classrooms with technology and integrate technology into the curriculum to bring in project-based learning. There’s a real lag between what you read is possible with technology and what teachers are actually able to do at this point. I want to know how we’re going to get there and what that vision looks like.”

Ms. Taira said, “That is the feedback we heard across the board at all the meetings – the need for more professional development.” She said the plan listed many activities to train teachers.

Assistant Superintendent Ellen Fogelberg said the District had changed the way it is providing professional development to teachers. She said, “Specialists are working in the buildings, so it’s on-the-job, classroom-embedded support for teachers to use the technology they have. I think that’s made a huge difference in the use of technology and people’s adjusting to it.”

When asked, Patti Tzortzis, instructional technology coordinator, said there are two specialists in the District, plus herself, who are providing this type training in the classrooms.

Susan Schultz added that principals are attempting to get teachers who are knowledgeable in technology to take on leadership positions to train teachers.

Board President Katie Bailey expressed concerns about the cost. “We can’t afford everything,” she said. “I don’t think we can spend $2 million a year out of the debt service extension base (DSEB).”

After paying for the capital projects planned for this summer, the District is estimated to have about $7 million available to fund future capital projects under its DSEB. The District’s financial consultants said that amount will increase about $2.5 million per year.

Ms. Bailey asked administrators to lay out a three-year budget for technology. It is anticipated that administrators will present a technology plan along the lines requested by Mr. Rykhus, together with a three-year budget later this month.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...