Montgomery County School Board OKs $14.5 million technology plan -- Gazette.Net


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Montgomery County classrooms would get a $14.5 million infusion of technology if a request from schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr passes the County Council.

Starr wants all elementary schools to have Promethean boards, high-tech whiteboards that are connected to computers and give students new ways to interact with their lessons. He also wants to add wireless networking to all county schools.

The initiative would be financed over five years using school technology funds and money from the Federal Communications Commission’s Education Rate program, referred to as e-Rate funds, according to a Starr memo released Thursday.

In an interview, Starr said increasing access to technology to schools is essential to advancing 21st century skills. The Promethean boards are not essential to roll out the new Curriculum 2.0 — which rewrites lessons to encourage more critical thinking — in elementary schools, but are “certainly incredibly useful,” he said.

“Promethean boards have become the chalkboard of today’s classroom,” he said.

At the Board of Education meeting Tuesday, board members asked why the school system was purchasing Promethean boards instead of other interactive whiteboards.

Sherwin Collette, the school system’s chief technology officer, said that the company provides the necessary resources and lessons for teachers to be able to effectively use the technology.

The Board of Education approved the proposal Tuesday; Michael A. Durso (Dist. 5) of Silver Spring was the only member opposed. The Montgomery County Council must reappropriate the funds.

About $8.95 million would buy 2,000 Promethean boards so that every elementary classroom has one — 34 of the school systems’ 132 elementary schools have no boards.

About $5.6 million would go to purchasing new or upgraded wireless networking equipment, software and services for all schools — 31 elementary schools, all middle schools and 11 of 25 high schools are wireless.

The school system would enter into two separate finance agreements to pay for the purchases.

Councilman Phil Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg said he would read the request carefully to see that the e-Rate funds were being used properly.

Andrews said the council members unanimously questioned the use of the funds in 2008, when the school system made a similar request.

The request asked to use the e-Rate funds to buy Promethean boards for middle schools, Collette said; now, 65 percent of all middle school classrooms have the boards.

He said that the school system will get boards in all middle schools as soon as more funding is available.

Andrews said council has the authority to decide on how the school system uses e-Rate funds.

Collette said the congressional intent for schools is to use e-Rate funds for technology spending, but there are no regulations on what rebates can be spent on.

He said the initiative will move more digital teaching into classrooms, encouraging student-driven, rather than teacher-driven, instruction.

He said staff would work “shoulder to shoulder” with teachers to train them to use the boards as they receive them.

Starr said the funds will help level the playing field at every school, as the boards that are in elementary classrooms now have been provided through PTA fundraising, grants or modernization projects.

jbondeson@gazette.net