Albany County School District No. 1’s school board voted last week adopt technology plan that calls for the school district to provide a Chromebook for every student, and have all Chromebooks replaced every 4-5 years.
The school district made a major investment in Chromebooks in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, and is already working toward providing a Chromebook for every student in the district.
Replacing the Chromebooks every 4-5 years is expected to cost the district about $150,000 annually.
During the district’s budget planning for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, district officials identified new technology as one of the top priorities that needs more funding.
Earlier in 2019, the district’s technology advisory committee requested $130,000 for replacement of staff computers, smart-boards and projectors. ACSD No. 1 Ed Goetz said at the time he’d prefer to see an increase as large as $200,000-$250,000 in the technology budget.
However, the school board held off on budgeting for technology at the time and at Superintendent Jubal Yennie’s request, waited for the new three-year technology plan to be completed before making any funding decisions.
The new technology plan calls for moving all teachers from desk-top computers to laptops, replacing schools’ public announcement systems, and replacing dated projectors.
Currently, the district has about 3,500 Chromebooks, 1,970 Windows-based devices and 1,525 Apple devices in the district.
Given the ubiquity of Google’s hardware in the district, ACSD No. 1 Technology Director Sean Moore said it would make a lot more sense for students to start using Google’s office software in lieu of the cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 software that students currently use.
Moore said during a work session this month that having students use a cloud-based system is cumbersome, and he noted employees much prefer using downloaded software.
“If they don’t want to use (cloud-based software), why are we forcing our kids to use it on a Chromebook?” Moore said. “Why not just let them use the native Chrome apps?”
Moore said that, if the district does move to using mostly Google software, Windows will still certainly need to be used for some applications, like computer science courses.
The technology plan also calls for all district teachers to move from Schoology to Canvas as their learning management system by 2021. In 2017, the Wyoming Department of Education negotiated a contract with Canvas that Moore said will allow ACSD No. 1 to get cheaper rates.
Canvas is used by the University of Wyoming, Laramie County Community College, and more than half of Wyoming’s school districts.
“When we talked about the benefits for students, and how this will sync with LCCC, that just kind of outweighs what we were doing with Schoology,” he said.
As part of the new technology plan, the district’s tech committee is expected to monitor “progress on the annual benchmarks and ensure objectives are being met.”
The technology plan also calls on the district to use instructional facilitators to help train teachers how to use new technology the district is using.
“In the technology department, we’ve historically had one person try to train our teachers for all our technology in the district,” Moore said. “We have a lot of tech-savvy instructional facilitators … I think this would be a huge upgrade to what we’re doing now.”
In lieu of hiring an additional IF right away, Yennie told the board Wednesday the current IFs have the capacity to absorb the new parts of the plan and recommended trying that first as a kind of a test run, “particularly coming into this next semester.”
School officials have also envisioned the possibility of hiring a tech-specific IF to train other IFs if necessary.
Concerned with overburdening staff this spring, board member Jamin Johnson said he’d love to hear if the facilitators “feel like they in fact do have the capacity to take on more work.”
“I felt like the proposal of adding one (IF) seemed reasonable and acceptable,” he added. “I’m concerned that we’ll be adding even more to their plates and diminishing their capacity.”
He added he doesn’t want to see the focus shift away from professional learning communities or other tools proven to be useful to the different faculties around the district.
“That’s one of the amazing ways the instructional facilitators are able to influence change within these schools is through encouraging their peers through the PLC process,” he said.
While acknowledging the plan overall is strong and ambitious, board member Beth Bear also shared Johnson’s concerns wanting to avoid “asking people to do more with what they already have in terms of current workflow and personnel.”
A few of the IFs, Yennie said, are “are willing to take on this responsibility.”
“They’re already doing a lot of that technology,” he added. “It’s important that this technology integrates with the instructional pieces that we’re doing, so it seems to be a natural link.”
A former IF herself, board member Tammy Johnson suggested some of the easier, more routine tasks that don’t need as much support could be spread to others to help lighten the load on the staff.
Yennie said all funding components of the new plan are contingent on available funding, and the district does not plan to request additional funding to fulfill the new plan’s elements. Next month, he added, the board can take a deeper look at where to go and what the plan will look like financially.