Onteora Central School District High School Principal Lance Edelman and Middle School Principal Jennifer O’Connor presented the iPad initiative program for secondary students at its April 22 Board of Education meeting. The presentation comes at the heels of a handful of people showing up at Board meetings with concerns that the use of WiFi needed for iPads and other technology devices over a prolonged period of time is possibly damaging to students health. iPads cannot be hard wired through an Ethernet cable, relying on wireless capability, and all schools in the district have wireless capacity. Concerned parents and people in the community have requested that wireless, or the ability to connect computers through radio or microwaves be eliminated from schools, instead relying only on Ethernet cable or fiber-optic technology. All students in grades seven-through-twelve have access to iPads that can be taken home.
“We are starting to talk about WiFi in schools and after watching your presentation, I’m wondering how you feel about not having WiFi in the schools…would [it] affect your program?” Trustee Bobbi Schnell asked Edelman.
Edelman said it took four-years and $250,000 to implement the program, saying it would be a “waste,” if Wi-Fi was removed. “I’m looking at this through the Secondary (school) perspective,” he said. “We’re sending students out into the real world and we expect them to go to a college campus, utilizing various technologies. They are going to be in this WiFi environment, they need to learn how to navigate this. I think it would be a disservice to High School students if we didn’t have it.”
On the other hand, Edelman continued, “I think there are ways we can teach students, that it’s important to shut off screens and devices when they’re not used, not utilizing the iPad before bed-time…”
O’Connor interjected, “It also goes to their phones, which they’re much more attached to than iPads — which are in their front pocket or back pocket…those are the same things.”
Edelman said, “Hopefully [through] some of the information we put out on the iPads, people will understand that…they can make better decisions.”
Technology skills through the iPad are blended into the Common Core Curriculum standards in English Language Arts, Literacy in history, social studies, science, and technology. Students have access to Apps, or self-contained applications for a mobile device, found usually through iTunes. In the High School, between teachers and students a total of 11,670 Apps were downloaded and at the Middle School a total of 6,786 Apps were downloaded. School officials have a security block where anything deemed inappropriate couldn’t be installed. Apps include, Kindle, homework help, calculator, flashcards, Google earth, dictionary, thesaurus, Garage Band, iMovie and Broken Brush, to name a few.
Trustee Ann McGillicuddy was puzzled. “I don’t have a Smart Phone and I don’t use Apps and I’m wondering if they’re necessary, how they’re used, is it like a short cut to get to a website?” Edelman said, “There are Apps to retest students, there is a calculator for example — it doesn’t go to a website, its contained within the APP itself.”
According to a technology audit conducted in 2014, it is more cost effective to rent technology for students such as iPads instead of purchasing them. Edelman said once this particular series becomes obsolete in about five years, he would look towards rental.
The board agreed to form a task force for the purpose of studying the WiFi debate. Trustees suggested taking wireless out of kindergarten-through-grade three in Woodstock and Phoenicia primary schools. “I think I’m wary about not having WiFi in High school,” said Schnell, “but I would like to have a discussion on what we could do to possibly reduce it in the primary.”
Three days of standardized State Math tests were held April 22-24 in grades three-through-eight and protests continued with 69 percent of students each day, refusing to take the tests.
This is an increase from the English Language Arts (ELA) district total of 64 percent. Bennett Intermediate School went from 66-to-68 percent during the three days of ELA’s, but in Math the total jumped to 77 percent in grade four, and 71 percent in grades five-and-six. Students, who refused to take the test were required to fill in a bubble on the test sheet itself that gave an optional refusal allowance and were then told to quietly read for the duration of the test.
The school board unanimously adopted the 2015/16-district budget of $51,656,975. Assistant Superintendent for Business and Interim Superintendent Vitoria McLaren presented the budget before adoption with no dramatic cuts to staffing or programs. The budget is a $219,150 or .42 percent reduction from spending in the 2014/15 budget, attributed mostly to a decrease in Capital project spending.
“Administrative [expense] has stayed pretty similar in the past few years (8.74 percent of budget),” McLaren said, “and program (81.79 percent) has always been the lions share of our budget which is how it should be.” The tax levy of $40,407,483 is an increase of $348,483 or .87 percent over last year’s levy. The previous projection of the 2015/16 levy was for an increase of 1.9 percent, but has since been reduced due to an increase of State aid of $473,579 through the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) reduction. Additionally, $2.5 million will be utilized from the fund balance to offset the levy. McLaren said, “There will be two vacancies in the budget, one is going to be filled and one will be held, monitoring the Kindergarten enrollment and if we need then we will certainly fill that position.”
Three candidates, three seats
Three people have handed in petitions for three Board of Education seats up for election. The only contested issue will be who takes two seats available for three years, and who takes the one that has one year left — the recently resigned Tom Hickey’s seat. It is still possible for write-in candidates to mount a campaign.
School Board Trustee and retired Woodstock Principal Bobbi Schnell of Olivebridge was appointed Hickey’s seat earlier in the new-year and has submitted petitions with the requisite number of signatures. Trustee Laurie Osmond of Willow is completing her seventh year, and newcomer Valerie Storey of Glenford have both also submitted petitions and will likely be taking the reigns in July. School Board President Tony Fletcher who was up for re-election has decided not to seek another term. School Board elections and budget vote are May 19.