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Norwalk school board hears 'tech talk'

Cary Ashby • Dec 12, 2018 at 4:00 AM

The Norwalk school board heard a lot of “tech talk” during Tuesday’s meeting.

Amie Swope, Norwalk City Schools director of technology, wants to expand the Chromebook laptop program to all the grades at Norwalk High School — freshmen through seniors — to a “bring your own device” (BYOD) concept using what she called a “virtual server.” For about the last 10 years, the laptops were available for seniors, juniors and “advanced sophomores.” 

The technology department built a smaller version of a virtual server over the summer. Swope said 138 machines from the high and middle schools are hooked up to it. Secretaries, administrators and the “high-functioning labs” have been using it. Swope presented the idea of the virtual server to the board in May.

“It tells us we can do it,” Swope told the board members, referring to the test run.

One of the biggest issues or possible complaints is the “fairness in education.” Swope said that would be evened out since the students, no matter what devices they would use, would have access to the same software.

“That’s a great equalizer,” she added.

Assuming about half of the students could bring their own device to school, Swope said if a student doesn’t own a laptop or iPad, he or she “could borrow one of ours,” but only in the classroom.

“They would not be taking it home,” she said. “We can do BYOD in the high school next year because of the safety net of being able to borrow (them). … They cannot introduce a virus into our server.”

Board member Steve Linder said “everybody will be on board until their $800 computer is stolen.” However, he also told Swope “it’s a heckuva idea.” Swope said she hopes parents will take ownership of the BYOD concept by doing “what’s best for their own student” and noted many students already carry equally expensive phones with them.

League Elementary Principal Adam Kreischer did a separate presentation with math teacher Tricia Selka about the usage of Chromebooks in the classroom. Kreischer said thanks to a combination of grant money, fundraising, the assistance of the PTO and principal’s funds, one “is available for each student in each classroom.”

“I pushed for this because my teachers use a lot of technology in their classrooms,” he added.

Selka talked about an “adoptive program” on a free website that her students use for math assessment. She receives a daily report on information such as what problems they missed and how long they are on the site. Kreischer said the report also informs Selka of the number of students who have mastered a particular math skill or where they’re struggling, so she can configure her lesson plans accordingly.

“We want the students to use (the laptops) as much as they can, but they don’t take the place of teachers,” Kreischer said  

In other business, the board:

• Approved Family and Medical Leave Act time for two employees: Lauren Manuella (speech and language pathologist at Pleasant Elementary and Norwalk Middle schools from about Jan. 27 through March 3) and Tiffany O’Neil (technology teacher at Maplehurst and Pleasant elementary schools from about Nov. 10 through Feb. 11).

• Accepted a $500 donation to the orchestra program from the Price-Downey-Buckland Family Foundation

• Set its organizational meeting for 7 p.m. Jan. 8 in the Norwalk High School Fisher-Titus Learning Center with current board president Lisa Wick serving as president pro-tempore. The records retention commission will be at 7:15 and the regular meeting at 7:30.

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