*This is the second of two stories on Greenwich Public Schools coping with the district's digital shortcomings. The first installment appeared Monday.
How to address digital challenges in Greenwich Public Schools will return to the Board of Education at their March 21 meeting at Western Middle School.
Earlier this month, the Greenwich Board of Education discussed modifications proposed by the administration on how to expand the district's digital learning environment. At their March 7 Work Session, the board received an overview of the nearly 300-page The Pearson Report which assesses GPS' digital capabilities and makes recommendations for the future.
At that time, School Superintendent William McKersie acknowledged that the digital infrastructure in the district 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," he said.
Greenwich High School Headmaster Chris Winters confirmed the school's "connectivity has improved significantly" since Jan. 31 stating that "it's a beginning, not an end, and we'll take it."
In terms of recommendations being made, Winters said, "Dr. McKersie consulted with us and we recommended that GHS prioritize other areas of improvement for the short term."
Efforts at the high school, explained Winters, are focused. "We continue to pilot the use of digital devices in a few English and Social Studies classrooms and in our Integrated Science classes. We are learning from those pilots." Additionally explained Winters, "We're also making steady progress in addressing the technology issues that were holding an expanded digital learning plan back."
As far as a more expansive pilot being implemented at GHS, where McKersie suggested that the number of users and devices would make it challenging, Winters agreed "there is extensive use of digital devices already at GHS."
Winters added that "more and more students are using laptops and tablets in classes. We are using fully our laptop carts purchased for each house."
GHS is looking to the future. "We also continue to grow in our knowledge and skills with technology. Technology is a powerful tool for helping us personalize learning for each student. We are very excited to be moving forward aggressively."
Consultant Suggests Targeted Pilots
As part of their report, Pearson has recommended that specific pilots be explored, for example, in one grade district wide using grade 6 as an suggestion, as well as an effort at one elementary school, suggesting Hamilton Avenue.
Regarding the technology initiative, North Street School Principal Charles Smith believes the "district leadership team has approached the development of it in a very thoughtful and responsive way. He added that the adjustments made were "based on input from building leaders and Pearson, and seems to reflect best practices in digital learning."
Smith also supports the implementation of "a pilot program" so that "any glitches can be identified and addressed before a full scale implementation." The elementary school principal added that "sixth grade probably isn't a bad choice since it 'bridges' or 'connects' the elementary and secondary levels."
Hamilton Ave School PTA President Peter Bernstein believes that "there is no question that a pilot is a useful way to see whether the outcome supports the investment. The results will provide a roadmap for teacher, parent and student engagement and guide future investments in technology."
In terms of determining how to pilot, Bernstein warns that "choosing one grade across the entire district or one school will always leave others wondering what they are missing." As a result, advises Bernstein, "the district will need to determine where they will have the most impact in terms of jump starting the digital transition."
Whoever is the particpant group, Bernstain states that "tracking these students through to graduation will be the ultimate measure of the impact of technology on transforming how we teach students."
Ralph Mayo, who has been principal at Eastern Middle School for nine years, believes that a pilot progam as suggested by Pearson is a good way to "work the kinks out." Mayo says that if the pilot is going to include one elementary school, the it makes sense that it should also include a grade in the secondary schools. If the resources are there, he says, one grade across all three schools would be "equitable."
Like Winters, post the Jan. 31 fix, Mayo said that the access as been much better. He also agrees that the approach to "slow down" makes sense. "We need to build our capacity," he added.