Principals from all three Milan Schools met with the Milan Board of School Trustees for a work session on Monday, October 15 to explain the 21st Century educational program, along with its advantages, as well as bring the Board up to speed on where they currently are in making it a reality for the Milan School Corporation.
Jane Rogers, elementary principal; Paul Ketcham, high school principal; and Patrick Murphy, middle school principal, had spent the day along with teachers visiting other area schools that already have the 21st Century educational program in place.
Teachers were divided into groups and sent to different school corporations in Crothersville, Scottsburg, Shelbyville, Eagle Creek, Fischers, and Franklin County where they observed the various uses of technology in their school programs, lots of good ideas and also informed them of the free apps and websites that were available.
In attendance were Board members Linda Baker, Gregory Lewis, Edward Amberger, and Timothy Tuttle, president. Randy Kirk was absent. Also attending were Superintendent Dr. Thomas Reale; and Larry Eaton, school attorney. Tuttle presided over the meeting.
Dr. Reale explained the program as a technology learning initiative with the concept of putting a device in every school child's hands. He noted that becoming wireless was the start of the process.
Ketcham stressed a need to engage students to enable them to become active participants in their own education. He said that the goal was for every child to have a laptop computer to use in daily lessons, adding that this would also allow teachers to send information to students that will be accessible at any time through the school's email account.
Other advantages emphasized by Ketcham were less wasted paper; documentation of time that a student sends a message or lesson to the teacher; and it would extend the learning day by students using their computer to do their homework. He also added that parents would not be hit as hard financially, as the cost would be significantly lower than textbook rental fees.
Students would lease the computers to use during their high school careers and it would become theirs upon graduation. Ketcham also explained that the computers would be great tools for students to use to send their personal information to colleges or prospective employers.
Rogers told board members that children are learning to use computer applications at a very early age and teachers should be prepared to teach these kinds of learners. She added that hiring Carolyn Dube as a technology consultant was an integral part in helping teachers to gain knowledge.
"Dube is a great resource person and can help teachers research the most effective tools for their classrooms," said Rogers.
Murphy said that he has seen many of his teachers using technology in the classrooms over the past nine weeks, adding that a science teacher had recently created Twitter accounts for his students, allowing him to grade papers in a more timely manner and enabling him to give students immediate feedback.
"Many of the more experienced teachers are getting excited and rejuvenated about the technology advances and are ready to be a part of this educational movement," said Murphy. "Our use of technology in school will give students a head start after they graduate."
Rogers added that high school students could actually use their laptops to earn college credits while in high school. She said that students could possibly even graduate high school with an associates degree in their respective field, adding that this would have a significant economic impact on the cost of college loans.
Ketcham has requested that his teachers do one digital lesson per nine weeks through the mobile lab. He said that he would like for Milan to be the best school system in Ripley County and the concept of every student having his/her own laptop may attract some top students from other areas to come to Milan.
Tuttle expressed concern for students who do not have Internet access at home and wanted to know how this would work for them. Ketcham explained Internet service is not necessary, as students will be able to download the assignments to their laptop while accessing the Internet at school. They would then be able to open the assignment at home and email the lesson the next day at school.
Ketcham said that he encourages teachers to email students weekly lessons to alleviate excuses for students to not have their work done. He said one of the schools he visited earlier that day had a teacher who told him how she recorded herself doing a dissection lesson so that students could watch it. He added that this type of lesson shifts the role of the teacher to that of a facilitator and increases the possibility of more active student participation.
Baker asked if there would precautions in place to prevent students from visiting inappropriate websites. Ketcham stated that there would be disciplinary measures in place for anyone who is not a responsible digital learner.
Tuttle asked the principals what would happen in the event of an Internet failure. It was noted that there would still be textbooks available, just not as many as before.
Baker brought up the question of laptop damage. Ketcham assured her that the computers would be on a leasing program with a contract, with insurance programs available to handle such issues. There would also be classroom computers available to any student who has trouble with their laptop.
Teachers in grades K-2 have iPads and use them for testing in reading and math, according to Rogers. She the other three grades share two mobile computers. She said that in the future she would like to see fourth and fifth graders with individual laptops.
Principals agreed that they would like to target the lower grades first so that the learning process will start early and continue until graduation.
Ketcham addressed the question of cost by saying that the technology director buys good refurbished equipment, adding that the cost would also be prorated over four years. He said the average "book" bill per student with lab fees and consumables should be less than the cost of textbooks.
Rogers stated the computer consultant is currently researching several different grant opportunities to enhance the current equipment.
It was expressed by Murphy that all students who use the mobile lab at the middle school seem to be more engaged in the learning process and he feels that the technology should make a difference in the ISTEP scores. Baker commented that she feels this is a win-win situation for students, as well as a morale booster for teachers and parents.
Ketcham encouraged the board members to visit the schools themselves and see how computers are being utilized in their educational settings.
Tuttle said that he would like to discuss "failure is not an option" at the next meeting. He added that teachers must learn to not accept less than the best from students on a daily basis. Dr. Reale stated that remediation is extremely important and failing a test should not be acceptable, adding that students should be remediated and retake the test to show mastery.
"Students should not be able to choose to fail; a failed test is only acceptable for those who can't, not for those who won't," said Dr. Reale, noting that "failure is not an option" policy should be a corporation policy that is developed at all levels through school improvement committees.
Also discussed was RISE, evaluation system for teachers. Dr. Reale explained the system is based on the Bluffton-Harrison model, modified to suit the school's needs. He said that each principal has been given a laptop that has been downloaded with the necessary software programs to complete the state-mandated evaluations.
He said that each teacher will have four to five evaluations, which is three 10-minute evaluations and one to two 45-minute evaluations. There is a rubric that must be followed and scores entered in a timely manner. Principals are evaluating on teacher effectiveness in planning, instruction, student engagement, and professionalism. He said that teachers can give immediate feedback, but it will not give them their scores until the final evaluation is complete.
There was some concern by Rogers who said that evaluations are an extremely time-consuming task. Amberger asked if the principals were going to be bogged down doing evaluations. Murphy said that there will be times when he will not be available for office calls and discipline may have to wait until he completes an evaluation. He said that it will be a challenge, as teachers are feeling the stress of the process also, because they all want to be classified as highly effective.
Lewis asked if an assistant could do the evaluations and was told that only those who have been trained can do so. The principals noted that they have talked to other schools about their processes and hope to learn from their mistakes.