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Greenwich Schools' Digital Reliability Is the 'Worst'

"The issue has run away from us," admits the school superintendent as a consultant reports the district lacks proper teaching and learning tools.

 

The lack of reliable digital capabilities in Greenwich Public Schools is creating more work for teachers in a system that a district consultant has described as one of the "worst" it has seen.

The Greenwich Board of Education is pulling back on its original push for a 1 to 1 digital learning environment, which called for an expenditure of more than $1.1 million for 5,264 devices and professional learning for all teachers in year 1 and an additional 4,400 devices in year 2.

Not About Devices

The modification comes as a result of the release of the nearly 300-page The Pearson Report, which was discussed at the board work session last Thursday during the Digital Learning Environment Presentation. Schools Superintendent William McKersie revealed that the consultant called Greenwich's system one of the "worst" they have seen in "a high-priced district" citing poor Internet connectivity, weaknesses in network infrastructure, inconsistent use of applications and overall lax standards.

The assessment was done by a team of Pearson engineers, teaching specialists and project managers that spent three days visiting the Havemeyer Building, Old Greenwich Elementary School, Riverside Elementary School, Hamilton Elementary School, Central Middle School, and Greenwich High School in January.

"We need to get the center strong"

McKersie acknowledged that the infrastructure was so problematic that teachers were "creating two lesson plans" in anticipation of whether the Internet was working. A Jan. 31 "fix" has alleviated some of the issues, however, Greenwich is still "suboptimal." 

McKersie told the board that he has heard “too much outcry from teachers” with respects to what they need and want in technology. He also said that the current state of the district’s infrastructure and capabilities is “an embarrassment.”

A Pilot Solution

Pearson's recommendations include a pilot in one grade district wide using grade 6 as an example, as well as a second part at one elementary school, Hamilton Avenue. PTA Council Technology Committee Chair Celia Fernandez said that she agrees that a district-wide 6th grade pilot would be a good idea, however timing remains an issue.

In reaction to the recommendations, board member Barbara O'Neill said "Pearson isn’t exactly objective. They are trying to sell us something." Striking the right balance is key for board member Adriana Ospina. "How much is too much and how much is too little?" she asked.

Price tag

In terms of cost, the recommendations are approximately:

  • $1.2 million in 2013-14
  • $6.2 million in 2014-15
  • $4.8 million in 2015-16
  • $4.3 million in 2016-17
  • $3.4 million in 2017-18

"Year one is black; the rest is gray"

Board Chairman Leslie Moriarty asked the board to focus more on year one than the out years as the initiative will most likely be modified as the process proceeds. The Digital Learning Environment will return to the board at their March 21 meeting at Western Middle School.

Ipad Assessments

While reliable and dependable connectivity has been a challenge, technology innovation is occurring in the district and not just for students. For example, Glenville School teachers are using Ipads to videotape themselves while teaching. Principal Marc D'Amico praises his staff's efforts in self-assessment. "The teachers truly have been innovative risk-takers. Their willingness to explore the significant impact that video self-analysis, coupled with careful and thoughtful reflection, has had on their practice is commendable."

SEED Stress

The issue of assessment of teaching practices received attention in Monitoring Report E-050, Human Resources/TEPL with the new state teacher evaluation system, System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED) being "viewed as an unfunded mandate."

During last week's board work session, Director of Human Resources Bob Lichtenfeld and Deputy Superintendent Ellen Flanagan said that the CT State Department of Education (SDE) has acknowledged the additional stress and strain SEED could have on districts’ budgets.

As an alternative, they revealed there is a possibility that a “staggered implementation of one-third of classroom teachers” may be considered. Additionally, Greenwich is trying to get the district’s current teacher evaluation plan, TEPL, or some variation of it, approved by the SDE as an alternate. TEPL is a process designed to demonstrate how well teachers are doing and how they may improve their practices.

Cathy Delehanty, president of the Greenwich Education Association (GEA) states that "it was imperative for the state to take the position that requires every district to create/implement a rigorous evaluation process."

Delehanty, who represents approximately 860 full-time employees in the district, sees the fault lines in the plan as "the short time line, inflexibility in process, and not funding the implementation and training of a new plan is problematic."

The exploration of options or variations within the plan would be optimal she believes. "Extending the time-line and modifying how it is implemented is the best answer," she says. "The pilot program needs to be reviewed and determine the necessary modifications to the SEED plan to help districts as they develop their plan. It is the hope that these modifications will align more with TEPL."

Teacher Retention

The HR report also discloses the role of the department in the TEPL process as working with the “administration and teachers in developing and supporting instruction support plans and intensive assistance plans.” It revealed that eight support plans and three intensive assistance plans were implemented this past year.

For the 2012-13 school year (as of 10/01/12), the district hired 88 new staff members and hit a retention rate of 89.9%. In the "Staff Exit Survey" conducted in 2011-12, Greenwich's reputation, resources and support were lauded. However, initiative fatigue was a common theme indicated. Click here to read full survey; Appendix B.

ListenUp March 11, 2013 at 01:33 PM
As Barbara O'Neill pointed out the "consultant" on this project, Pearson, has a conflict of interest. Pearson sells online educational software including online textbooks. It is in Pearson's interest in push upgrades to technology in order to sell its products. Isn't it a little convenient that McKersie hired consultants that agree with the position he's held all along? I'm sure Greenwich schools do have legitimate technology concerns, but why hire a consultant that has a financial interest in selling you its product?
ListenUp March 11, 2013 at 02:07 PM
Thank you for linking to the 300-page Pearson Report. It's quite shocking that the balance of the report is pages and pages of Greenwich's current textbook inventory. How much did that cost to compile? Starting on page 227 and continuing almost to the end is nothing but Pearson's own marketing piece! It's is nothing more than Pearson's catalog! glad we found such an impartial consultant! Sue, did you look at the report yourself? Your readers would probably prefer some editorial comment here, rather than McKersie's and Pearson's biased conclusions. It's really suspect, too, that the headline declares GPS's technology as one of the "worst." How can that be in a school system where every classroom has a whiteboard, internet access, and a bring-your-own device policy for students? This is a little over the top, don't you think?
Barbara Heins (Editor) March 11, 2013 at 06:57 PM
Thank you for your comments and observations. The story presents the issue from both sides so that readers may make their own conclusions, and the report which includes anecdotal evidence of the difficulty with Internet access teachers and students experienced during one of the site visits. This has been an ongoing issue that Patch will continue to report. If you have evidence that this is a non-issue, we would welcome you to present it in this forum.
kc March 11, 2013 at 07:11 PM
So who is responsible for this "embarrassment" and will anyone be held accountable? I doubt we will ever know on either front. Exhibit A on the BOE's poor stewardship of our tax dollars.
ListenUp March 11, 2013 at 07:42 PM
The article hardly presents an even-handed assessment of the situation. I'm asking why a consultant was paid to repackage Greenwich's own data (textbook inventory) and include a 60-page marketing brochure of the consultant's own products and materials. I'm concerned as a taxpayer that the BOE has not done its due diligence.

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