By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND — Despite budget pressures, the school district here is moving ahead to promote student use of cutting-edge technology.
At its meeting last week, the board agreed to a contract for roughly $325,000 with the Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services for 396 laptops and three carts allowing Farnsworth Middle School to be completely wireless.
Payments will be made as part of an annual BOCES contact for services and about half of it will be reimbursed, said Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders.
The contract, which starts July 1, is for up to three years.
Guilderland will be paying a BOCES management fee of $16,338, which Sanders said is “not negotiable.”
At the same meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton announced that Natalia LeMoyne was hired as an instructional technology specialist.
“We have been actively engaged in a district-wide paradigm shift in the area of instructional technology support,” said Singleton in making the announcement.
He said that LeMoyne, who has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in instructional technology, has set up a new web resource in the form of a blog called EverydayEdTech.
LeMoyne currently has posted on the blog pictures and a description of first-graders using iPads to create presentations that included videos. For a social studies project on “Transportation Through Time,” Deanna Barney-Sischo’s first-graders at Pine Bush Elementary School used their iPad cameras to take pictures and videos.
“Needless to say, they were thrilled and engaged,” wrote LeMoyne. “All of a sudden, the eagerness to create a presentation to TEACH their parents about transportation became the driving motor of this project.”
The first-graders created slides, made of pictures of carriages, trains, planes, cars, and boats from the books they had read.
“Some of them explored the different layout and pinched to zoom or rotate their pictures and text!” wrote LeMoyne.
She concluded, “These students are digital natives — they were born in this digital era, these things make sense to them and come naturally. For us, digital immigrants, technology becomes more of an acquired taste.”
She ends her post with a letter from the teacher, Barney-Sischo, who writes, “The use of an iPad to create an individual student project far surpassed my expectations. The students were able to produce a product that highlighted their strengths in sharing information that they had learned about transportation and their new understanding of Keynote.”
She went on, “I feel that the format used for introducing children to Keynote was scaffolded in a manner that led to student independence. The children went from not having used Keynote before to adding extra slides on the day of presentation to the parents.”
Barney-Sischo wrote that she is already planning other student projects, like writing how-to books, that would use the new technology, and stated, “It never ceases to amaze me how quickly children pick up the technology and are able to teach others.”
The board is reviewing a new policy that would allow the superintendent to designate “flexible attendance areas” to balance class sizes in grade levels across the district.
Families with elementary-age children who move into the designated areas will be assigned to the school with the smaller class sizes; their siblings will be assigned to the same school. Those children will remain in their assigned schools unless their families move.
The policy was drafted, said Barbara Fraterrigo, the school board member who heads the policy committee, because this year so many students moved into apartments in the Guilderland Elementary School catchment area, increasing class sizes there, while nearby Westmere Elementary School had no such increase.
Guilderland Elementary is “bursting at the seams,” said board President Colleen O’Connell while Westmere has some room.
Superintendent Marie Wiles said, since only Guilderland and Westmere are affected, the change is “essentially cost neutral for transportation.”
The neighborhoods are already served by buses to both schools.
The district will save money by not having to hire new staff at an overcrowded school.
The flexible attendance areas include the following complexes: Regency Park, Heritage Village, Brandywine Apartments, Presidential Estates, and Fairwood Apartments.
In other business, the board:
— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton that the Guilderland High School Math League scored a 26 on Contest 4, bringing its cumulative score to 102, tying for sixth in the state;
— Learned that violinist Michelle Kang, a junior, won the high school’s Concert Competition, giving her the privilege of a solo performance at a spring concert. She will perform the Barber Violin Concerto, Opus 14 with the High School Symphony Orchestra on June 4;
— Heard that Farnsworth Middle School will sponsor Camp Invention from Aug. 5 to 9. Singleton said that over 90 students participated in the camp last summer, its first year; he called it “incredibly engaging for the students.” The camp is run by high school science teacher Alicia McTierman;
— Heard from O’Connell about the board’s annual joint meeting with the public library trustees, held this year on Feb. 6. She said, in the wake of the library’s bond defeat for expansion, grant money will be used to make needed repairs.
O’Connell stressed that the school district is no longer sending tutors to the library to work with students. A new policy at the library, starting March 1, will have private tutors meet with students in the Guilderland Room, where they won’t disturb other library patrons, she said.
Vice President Gloria Towle-Hilt reported that some librarians had attended workshops on the new Common Core Standards, with an emphasis on non-fiction reading, and want to help. New York is one of the states that has joined the national initiative to align curricula;
— Approved new language for the Audit Committee charter;
— Created a part-time post for a purchasing agent in case the assistant superintendent for business is unable to do so, and named Norma Henness to fill the post, effective Feb. 13.
“We’re reshuffling the cards in the deck,” said O’Connell, indicating duties would be shifted so the district would not be paying any added salary or benefits for the new post;
— Appointed members of a committee to study the district’s facilities needs to recommend to the board if a bond vote is needed for upgrades. Three, rather than the recommended two, board members were interested so all three were appointed — Jennifer Charron, Allan Simpson, and Judy Slack.
Wiles will serve as well as Sanders, director of Physical Plant Management Clifford Nooney, and Director of Technology Joseph Reilly.
Westmere Elementary Principal Beth Bini and administrative intern Kerri Rosher will be on the committee along with high school Principal Thomas Lutsic.
Towle-Hilt, a retired middle-school teacher, said it was important to have an administrator from Farnsworth on the committee, too. “That’s a voice we need to hear,” she said. O’Connell said it made no sense to have the retiring middle school principal serve, so the board agreed to find another Farnsworth administrator.
Additionally, maintenance mechanic Richard DeGonza will be on the committee along with Holly Kernozek, representing the Guilderland Office Workers’ Association.
The Guilderland Teachers’ Association will be represented by JoAnn Romano, Terri Gifford, and Gary Gnirrep.
Finally, three parent-community representatives were named: Stacy Stern, Thomas Robert, and Jonathan Rosenblum. Board member Judy slack said that “10 wonderfully qualified people” volunteered for the community posts and her committee chose three — all parents of current students.
Slack said she was “so grateful” and also “sorry we couldn’t take all 10”;
— Also heard from Slack that the former, now vacant, district offices, which had been slated for demolition after new offices were built at the high school, will stand. Referring to Nooney, Slack said, “Cliff says to re-allocate funding to implement new security measures.” So, the district offices, located on the Farnsworth campus off of Route 155, will continue to stand; and
— Met in executive session to discuss negotiations with the Guilderland Employees’ Association and with the Guilderland Technology and Communication Personnel Association, as well as to talk about the medical or employment history of a particular person.