Teachers in the Turlock Unified School District recently responded to a statement made by district superintendent Sonny Da Marto that every class has all the tools they need by conducting a technology survey.
The survey revealed stark technological inconsistencies between school sites in TUSD.
The survey response from teachers was voluntary and Turlock Teachers Association (TTA) President Julie Shipman admitted that some numbers in regards to the teacher to computer ratio were flawed. However, what were not flawed were the varying levels of technology from one school site to another.
Some older, under-performing schools, like Brown and Wakefield Elementary, had been equipped with interactive white boards (also known as SMART boards or Promethian Boards) and newer schools like Pitman High School and Medeiros Elementary had none.
“It is soon going to be the 2012 school year and many of our classes don’t have the technology that is even coming close to what other school districts have,” said Shipman.
In contrast, at Merced High School nearly every classroom has an interactive white board.
TUSD Technology and Data Systems Supervisor Judi Green indicated the district is working on the issue and acknowledged that technology may be lacking.
“Myself and the technology committee are looking at ways to improve our standards of technology, but it all boils down to funding,” she said. “Currently, every single teacher in this district has a computer and 85 percent have LCD projectors. As far as interactive white boards and document cameras, we have come a long way from just two or three years ago” she added.
In the last three years, despite lean budgets and staff pay cuts, TUSD schools have added a confirmed 69 interactive white boards and 107 document cameras.
One point that Green made was that the vast majority of technology at school sites comes from grants and site-specific decisions regarding funding.
“School sites are given the freedom to choose what to do with their funding, with input from their School Site Councils on how to spend some of it,” said Green. “Some funding is restricted, while other funding sources are not. Schools have the flexibility of choosing, based on their site needs, how to spend some of their unrestricted funding.”
This school year some of TUSD elementary schools elected to use funding to pay for other instructional programs, including sixth grade camp.
On top of the survey, Shipman noted that there are problems with the supply chain in the district. While most classrooms have projectors, some are on carts and some are overhead and bulbs for the projectors are often difficult to come by.
“I know at Turlock High School there are no bulbs on campus. Without the bulb you can’t use the LCD projector and without the projector you can’t show students the Internet or have Power Point presentations,” said Shipman.
In the survey are cited dozens of situations where teachers are buying technology parts from their own pockets and more than 100 instances of broken computers, printers, televisions, speakers and projectors. There were even numerous reports of broken manual pencil sharpeners that had sat unrepaired for weeks.
“The way it works is that if something goes wrong in the classroom, the teacher puts in a request at the school site office and then they replace or fix the problem. The most serious problems are taken care of first, just like triage in a hospital,” said Da Marto. “If some teachers had to buy their own parts then they just didn’t want to wait. If the teachers don’t tell anyone there is a problem how would anyone know,” he added.
Da Marto said the lack of pencil sharpeners is a school supply issue, separate from technology issues.
Green agreed that problems in the supply chain and repairs do occur, but she points to lack of staff for the problem.
“We have eight and a half full-time technicians to cover 16 schools, 1,500 employees, 13,000 students and 4,000 computers, and that doesn’t include the printers, projectors and other peripheral equipment. We have a work order system and we are looking at ways we can work smarter but we can only be in so many places at once, and work through our work orders daily,” said Green.
Soon the district will be investing in state-of-the-art technology. Next fall the eCademy will open for business and every student will be equipped with Net Books and a paid home Internet connection. Green said TUSD will be also conducting a pilot program to include a Net Book program at a traditional school (site unknown at this time).
Paperless classrooms could soon be commonplace in TUSD — textbooks replaced with computers or tablet computers, saving dollars and ultimately saving jobs and allowing funding to be reinvested into the classroom environment.
Wakefield Elementary Principal Aaron Mello said his students are already gaining the experience of electrical-based learning and interaction.
“I’m a firm believer in moving ahead with technology in the classroom. At the elementary level we probably have the best technology in the county and it has really increased our student engagement and interaction. We hope we can be a demonstration site for the rest of the district and they can use our program as an example,” said Mello.
Last summer Wakefield was awarded a Student Improvement Grant, which allows under-performing, poverty-stricken schools a chance to compete with schools without detrimental socio-economic conditions.
At Crowell Elementary, TUSD is spending $40,000 to purchase 35 new computers for a computer lab.
“Labs and library access are great and all but access to libraries and labs is very limited because there are only so many full-time librarians and technicians,” explained Shipman. “The TUSD mission statement says ‘equipped to compete successfully in an ever-changing global society by delivering effective instruction that engages all students’ but how are we going to accomplish that if there is so much (technology) out there that we don’t have and aren’t using like other school districts.”
“The bottom line is that it all comes down to funding. Our goal is to provide access to technology at each school, eventually equipping the classrooms for the 21st century. Technology is there but we can’t currently equip each room with everything they want but what we can do is allow access to technology for every teacher and class at each school,” said Green.
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.