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.
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.
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."
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."
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.