The Kingston City School District (KCSD) last week launched its 2023-24 Digital Resources Survey to assess the technical needs of its community.
The KCSD conducts the annual survey in part to meet New York State data reporting requirements, but superintendent Paul Padalino said the motivation is primarily to ensure the district can help all its students meet their technical needs at home.
Surveys are available through a student-specific link sent to parents and guardians, and the district asks that the roughly ten-minute questionnaire is filled out for each student in the household. The survey opened on Monday, October 30, and will remain open during the school year to allow for movement into and within the district, as well as for people to get around to it at their own speed.
“We want to know things like, do you have connectivity? That’s a big one,” Padalino said. “And do you have devices at home? Do you have a desktop? Do you have a printer? Do you use your cell phone? How are you accessing the technology or the services that we can bring to you through technology? And that does multiple things.”
All KCSD students in grades 4-12 have already been assigned Chromebooks for working at home; the digital resources survey gives the district an understanding of how effectively they’re able to be used, and how school officials might be able to help.
“It gives us a little bit of knowledge about where can we direct some funds,” Padalino said. “Spectrum has some good programs for people who don’t have high speed internet, so if we can drill it down and we can go into the survey and say, ‘Hey, here’s ten families that have no internet; let’s connect them with Spectrum, get them internet so they can use it for the things that we’re trying to leverage here.’”
Padalino said that the surveys have become critical since March 2020 when the district went fully remote during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Having this information, should something like that ever happen again, we’re much more prepared than we were,” he said. But the superintendent isn’t eager to use remote learning in other situations.
“I know there’s a lot of talk around snow days,” Padalino said. “If we know all of our students have high-speed internet and they all have devices, instead of doing a traditional snow day, can we do a remote day? And I have to say, I’m not in favor of that, to be honest with you. I think that maybe if we go over (allotted) snow days, you want to look at that option. But I wouldn’t want to do it in place of snow days just because we get those days back anyway. I want students to have as many days in school in front of their teacher as possible, so I wouldn’t supplant a remote day and even have the faintest notion that it would be the same as being in school that day.”
It also allows school officials to consider how they present information to families across the district.
“I think in a lot of ways it also helps our communication efforts,” Padalino said. “If I look and I see that 70 percent of our population is accessing our website using their cell phone, I’m thinking, ‘Is my website cell phone friendly?’”
Survey links will be e-mailed to families each day until the survey is completed, one per KCSD student. If parents or guardians have not received their survey, they should reach out to their child’s school directly. The survey is available in both English and Spanish.
Padalino said the survey is critical in connecting all corners of a geographically large, economically disparate school district.
“It’s a huge part of this, helping provide the same bridge to other resources that are available,” he said.“And it also helps us communicate with the city and the county and their efforts around these things to say, this is an area here where out there in Hurley, even though that might not be a poor neighborhood, the service out there is awful. Is there something we need to do? Do we need to put up a tower? So we can use that to try to collaborate and cooperate with our municipalities as well. And the state has responded to that.”
Padalino said the district leverages federal and state grant funding as well as seeking deals with private internet providers to try and give each student an equitable chance at connectivity.
“This is one of the reasons I was able to use our ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding to justify the use of a funding for internet hotspots,” he said. “We hand out hotspots to kids who are maybe not in a great place that could get internet. So to fund that, we use this (survey) information and say, this is how many of our families don’t have computers at home and this is why the one-to-one will help them, and this is why we’re handing out hotspots.”
Coming during the pandemic, participation in the Digital Resources Survey was stronger in its first couple of years.
The first two times we did it, we got great participation in the 80 percent range, which is phenomenal,” Padalino said.“You don’t get that for a lot of things. But last year we had a much lower participation, about 60 percent. If people aren’t moving or new people don’t come into the district, we can still use some of that old data. But we have a lot of transiency in this district and it’s good for people to continue to get it in there. So we’re really encouraging our principals to use their resources in their buildings to communicate with families, our social workers, our bilingual family workers, just to get in there and say, ‘Hey, fill this out,’ or help them fill it out if they need it.”