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How much tech should be in Yellow Springs schools?

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The Yellow Springs community needs to have a serious discussion about the technology that local students need to keep up with today’s educational demands, Yellow Springs Superintendent Mario Basora said at the November school board meeting last week. The district has applied for a grant that if awarded will buy 600 new laptops next school year, a move that would nearly triple the number of computers currently available for the 731 students enrolled in K-12.

“This would immediately usher in an era of 1-to-1 computing for us,” Basora said of the ratio of students to computers. And when that happens, the district needs to be ready to deal with the demand for equitable wireless access for all students in school and at home, as well as infrastructure and tech support that an influx of computers will require.

Board President Benji Maruyama voiced support for the need for broad and equitable Internet access for students whose class assignments and homework is increasingly either done on the computer or is reliant on access to the Web.

“Data is the new utility, along with water and electricity,” Maruyama said, echoing Basora’s earlier statement that “technology is the next big civil rights issue.” “It’s a resource in our community we should think about like sewer and lights — we need infrastructure built around it … and it needs to be thought about in terms of our educational policy too.”

A consortium of Greene County schools, including Yellow Springs, made joint application for the grant from the Straight A Fund which comes from state lottery money. In Yellow Springs, the estimated $60,000 would be used to pay about 14 local teachers to work in teams to create new online textbooks in various fields for students in grades six through 12. It would also buy 20 carts of 30 Chromebooks on which the district could if it chooses, use the online coursework designed by local teachers.

According to Basora, the district currently has just enough computers to complete the new state required PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers) testing of students’ grasp of the state Common Core standards. The testing must be administered by computer, which means that next year, all of the district’s computers will be occupied for testing purposes for several months at a time. None will be available for teaching during those months, which will feel like a reduction in computers, he said.

Giving students the agency to decide when and how they need to use technology to answer the questions and problems they generate is empowering for students, Basora said, with board member Angela Wright agreeing.

In other school board business:

• The board considered using district funds to support a development director for the Class of 2020 Strategic Plan. Filling the development position is one of the goals stated in the plan. And while the position is meant to bolster YSCAPE, the private fund created to support the 2020 plan, YSCAPE only has enough funds left to support the position for one year.

Both Basora and school board members agreed that hiring a skilled developer would require commitment to funding the position for more than a year. And Basora announced during the meeting that an anonymous donor had agreed to fund the position for years two, three and four on a matching basis with the school district. The total from each party would be $90,000 over three years, assuming the position was part-time and compensated at a little over $50,000 a year.

Board members voiced general support for the position but hesitance to fund a position board members Maruyama and Sean Creighton both said was not completely clear.

“I’d be careful about putting district funds against it — if there’s a match, it’s more interesting, but without a better definition of the contract, the work, the expectations… there’s not enough definition to comment yet.”

Creighton suggested Compression Planning, a trademark business brainstorming tool, with experts in the fundraising field to help define the job and report back to the board.

One year into the implementation of the 2020 plan, the district has used about $100,000 from YSCAPE to fund the initial stages of teacher training in project-base learning.

• The board discussed this year’s enrollment data for the 731 students in k–12, the highest number of students at Yellow Springs since 1984, and an increase from 704 in 2011 and 713 in 2012.

“That’s a really big deal,” Basora said.

Much of the increase is due to the district’s open enrollment numbers, currently at 148, exactly at the district’s OE limit. The number of students who have come to Yellow Springs from other districts rose from 126 in 2011 and 130 last year, with students coming largely from Xenia (42), Greenon (35), Springfield City (22) and Cedar Cliff (17).

About 104 local students are also choosing to attend other districts. The Antioch School has always had the highest number of local students — about 30. Other private schools such as Miami Valley and faith-based schools such as Carroll and St. Brigid each draw a handful of students, while a dozen more choose larger high schools for opportunities in sports and other areas. Basora noted a steady increase in students attending the Dayton STEM school, starting with one student in 2011, six students in 2012 and nine this year. The trend validates for him the project-based, student inquiry driven education Yellow Springs schools are striving toward.

“We’re all competing for kids, that’s the reality,” he said. “We have to change what we do — keep offering something that’s qualitatively different than what we had before.”

• Special education director Barb Greiwe reported that the results of a pilot program using CogMed Working Memory Training to improve cognitive capacity of students with individualized education plans were inconclusive due to inadequate data collection. The trial was funded by a grant from the Yellow Springs Education Endowment.

• Basora and district Treasurer Dawn Weller as well as board members Sylvia Ellison and Aïda Merhemic attended an Ohio School Board Association Capital Conference earlier this month.

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