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Are Kingsport schools keeping up with technology?

CHRISTAN M. THOMAS • Apr 29, 2007 at 11:39 AM

Technology in schools remains a hot topic for systems around the country. The candidates for the three Kingsport Board of Education seats got a chance to voice their opinions on how KCS uses technology.

Vying for the three seats are three incumbents - current BOE President Dr. Randy Montgomery, current Vice President Susan Lodal and Wally Boyd - and one newcomer - Dr. John Hall.

The Times-News recently asked all of the candidates a series of questions regarding issues that are or will be facing KCS in the near future. Those issues include student population increases, use of technology and the possibility of consolidation.

This is part two of the series, which highlights the candidates' responses.

Q: Tennessee was recently given a "C" from Education Week in it annual Technology Counts report. How do you think KCS is doing with technology in its schools? Where do you see the use of technology going in the future, and how can you, as members of the Board of Education, help facilitate proper technology use?

Boyd: Thanks in part to current board president, Randy Montgomery, there is a technology plan for our system. It continues to be a plan in progress due to changing demands and needs.

For example, we are budgeting new capacity for our bandwidth next year that will have a dramatic impact on our ability to use new software. It takes a massive amount of study to investigate new software and hardware and then to systematically implement them into a school system. When implemented, it takes a massive training effort to train teachers how to use new tools. This is expensive. We have done better in Kingsport keeping up with technology than most areas in Tennessee because our local population has paid the bill. Corporate and grant money has helped, but systems need millions of dollars to stay current. Students are so tech savvy that an institution that is behind in current technology will not be taken seriously.

In the next 10 years, I foresee each student in middle and high school having their own laptop. Perhaps many of the textbooks will be available online to defray some of these costs. As a board, we can continue to expect the staff to update its technology plan annually with corresponding costs. This will forever be a part of our annual capital and operating costs as surely as maintenance and repair costs.

It is also important to remember that technology is a tool. By itself, it will never teach a student how to think. That is the job of a teacher. Our ultimate goal is to give good teachers the tools they need.

Hall: We are way behind. We need to look at companies such as Apple to see what they can provide.

We need to talk to local companies about their older (i.e. several years old) computers. What is the cost difference of electronic "online" books versus paper books? Can we join with other systems in purchasing or leasing these?

Lodal: Technology continues to evolve and it will always be a challenge to keep up with what is available for education. However, I do believe that we are making significant progress in providing technology to the schools.

Here are some current examples:

1. We are adding fiber connectivity to the entire school system this next school year (2007-2008). It has become apparent that, in order to provide the kinds of resources and services we want to have for our students, this upgrade is needed. Recently, Embarq offered to sponsor Kingsport City Schools by providing the CCC! Video On Demand service. In exchange, we would display their logo in our schools. In order for us to accept their sponsorship, fiber connectivity will need to be in place.

2. All of our schools are continuing to add more Smart Board interactive whiteboards to their classrooms. Teachers are using this new technology to actively engage students in lessons. I watched a Smart Board lesson on Dr. Seuss at Kennedy Elementary on Read Across America Day. Young students were able to learn about the famous author and "decorate" a greeting card by touching the board. Washington Elementary is a Smart Showcase School, the only one in Tennessee identified to share the newest Smart products with other educators.

3. In 2004, Dobyns-Bennett received a three-year EdTech grant (Enhancing Education through Technology) to help teachers learn how to incorporate technology into their lessons. Students' projects, such as PowerPoint presentations and informational brochures, were then showcased each semester in the school library, where other teachers (and school board members) had the opportunity to view them and ask questions. Feedback from teachers has been very positive.

Montgomery: Technology is utilized in schools in three different ways. It is used to assist in the daily operations and administration of the schools. Next it is used to assist the faculty in communicating with students in the classroom. Examples being computer workstations, laptop carts, Smart Boards, calculators, digital and analog media and the Internet. Lastly the students are given a chance to use some of the tools of technology as part of the everyday classroom experience.

Over the years the state and federal governments have added many things to the curriculum in the schools. This needs to be reviewed as to its appropriateness in the 21st century and to see if it meets the needs and demands of the communities. Even though there has been an increase in demands on our schools and systems, there has been neither additional time provided nor money to meet the requirements. As schools, as well as businesses, try to accommodate the 100 percent No Child Left Behind demand, costs rise exponentially. Systems have to maneuver funding and time to meet the "latest" idea and requirement thus making it difficult to establish a plan for the future.

School systems should be encouraged to create a focused plan that allows them to be proactive with technology as opposed to reactive. Schools need to continually remember that students, even in kindergarten, are comfortable with computers and using technology as a tool in everyday life. The school environment needs to allow students to use those skills and knowledge in their education. Just as critical, schools need to remember that faculty and staff need to be allowed and encouraged to utilize tools of technology as it develops and changes. Since technology evolves, staff development needs to continue to be available for training.

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