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NCLUSD bolstering technology

NEWMAN – Classrooms throughout the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District are being outfitted with uniform technology, and campus computer labs are being established or enhanced.

The sweeping technology upgrades are all part of the transition to Common Core standards and on-line assessment tests.

Further down the line, each student might have his or her own device provided by the district – but district leaders say the so-called 1:1 initiative is secondary to getting a technology base in place.

After taking part in a pilot testing program of the on-line Smarter Balanced assessment tests last spring at Hurd Barrington Elementary, the district determined that a computer lab setting – with personal computers rather than tablets – would be preferable to testing in the classroom.

Toward that end, the district is installing computer labs at Bonita and Barrington schools, upgrading labs at Hunt and Von Renner and adding at Yolo. The middle school’s needs are greatest, district officials said, because that is the only site where all students will take the Smarter Balanced assessments.

At Orestimba High, a wing is essentially being converted into a media/technology center.

“We hope to have an idea by January of how well the labs are working,” said Kim Bettencourt, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction. “We will have our first dry run in January at the elementary sites, using assessment programs that we have purchased.”

Superintendent Ed Felt said that valuable information emerged from the pilot tests last spring.

That included a determination that PCs, with their keyboards, mouse and higher resolution, were a more user-friendly testing tool than tablets.

Another round of field testing will take place next spring, involving students in grades 3-8 and 11. The Smarter Balanced assessments will begin in earnest in the spring of 2015 for those same grade levels, coinciding with the implementation of Common Core in the 2014-15 school year.

Classroom technology is also evolving to keep pace with the demands and philosophy of Common Core.

Justin Pruett, who heads a districtwide technology team, said the district is making strides towards its goal of ensuring that each classroom is equipped with a teacher laptop, document camera and projector which offers interactive smartboard capability.

“We felt that should be a minimum as we move to more of an interactive classroom,” Pruett explained. “Our goal is to have interactive classrooms K-12 by the end of the year.”

Student devices

As the district beefs up its computer labs and enhances the technology available to teachers, debate continues over 1:1 student technology in the classroom.

The district is purchasing Chromebooks to pilot at upper grade levels, but has made no commitment to that option.

“Access to devices in the classroom will be the next big step, and it might not be all at one time. Having five tables in a third-grade classroom, for example, would make a big difference as opposed to having to wait for your lab time,” Bettencourt commented. “We are also researching professional development needs for teachers and staff, which is a huge component. It has to be very thought out, and a lot has to be in place for that to be successful.”

The 1:1 student devices are a critical choice facing the district in the future, officials said, the classroom upgrades and ensuring that campuses – and students – are adequately prepared for on-line assessments are the more immediate priority.

“I think we were hoping to have the (1:1) device that we were going to use selected by now, but other things needed to be in place, such as having interactive whiteboards for all teachers, not just some,” Pruett reflected. “We want to make it equitable for all our students.”