Role of Technology in Education Focus of Garrison School Board Discussion

By Pamela Doan

Technology and its distractions and uses were on the minds of the Garrison Union Free School Board of Education at their monthly meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 18.

Concluding the work of a committee comprised of teachers, board members, and parents that was facilitated by consultant Jeff Sun of Sun Associates, a three-year strategic plan was presented and approved. The 34-page comprehensive plan set out the committee’s vision to use technology as a tool in the classroom to support academic standards. Everyone agreed that the goal was not to teach technology for its own sake, but to explore how it can aid learning and the Common Core curriculum.

The plan addresses professional development as a key area for growth. Superintendent Gloria Colucci spoke to board members concerns about the expertise and resources of staff to implement the plan. She said, “Teachers want more capacity and want to know that if they create a lesson plan using an innovative approach, that the infrastructure will be there to support them.”

Money is budgeted for professional development for the current school year, although some board members wondered if the amount was sufficient. Board members who participated in developing the plan emphasized that it was a living document, meant to create a process for getting input and making decisions. Board President Raymond O’Rourke thanked everyone for their efforts and time in the planning process and then during her remarks, Colucci expressed her appreciation and read out a list of names of everyone who participated.

During the section of the meeting for public comment, two parents spoke about their concerns about the school’s focus on technology in the classroom. One of the parents, who identified herself as a college professor, questioned how the school could effectively evaluate if educational outcomes were improved by using devices like iPads in the classroom.

She also spoke of the distracting influence of smartphones that students could use for texting, social media and games and discussed her own struggles to control their use in the classroom. Both parents had similar suggestions about making greater use of the school’s forest and outdoor education in general, instead of focusing on technology.

Board members pointed out several ways that teachers engage students in nature as an educational tool and discussed how to communicate this better to parents. Board member Charlotte Rowe requested that a document the committee created outlining types of projects that could be enhanced with technology, like recording sound or research, be included in the plan.

External auditor’s report

The school district again had an external audit of their budget and finances. The auditor’s report, presented by representatives from O’Connor Davies, LLP praised the board’s budgeting process and gave them a satisfactory rating.

In the previous school year, the budget came in with $110,000 in surplus funds. Their assessment of the school’s reserve was that GUFS is cushioned for future expenses and has been conservative in their approach. The Audit Committee will be making recommendations about how often to seek an external audit and the consultants recommended every two-three years. GUFS had an external audit report this time last year, as well. The board acknowledged that the budget is tight, with one member calling it “all muscle, no fat.”

While there is funding for the current budget as it stands, spending is tight and state money has not been received yet. Overall, Colucci said that the district is in excellent financial condition.