Thursday, May 15, 2014

Letter Read at the Lopez Island School Board Meeting on 5/14

  I would first off like to thank those of you who have spoken out in support of the Technology Program here at Lopez Island School. Whether by email, in person, on Facebook, or hugs, I thank everyone who has taken a stand about the value of the technology education.

  While I’d naturally like to give a diatribe about the value of technology in education, I have little doubt that the members of the board already know and agree with the role technology should be playing in our schools. Instead, I’d like to tell you a story about a day in my job. During the evening previous to this day I had received an email from Bill informing me that Stephanie’s monitor had gone out and asking me to take a look at it first thing in the morning. As I entered school I went to Stephanie’s computer and solved the problem immediately. This was prior to taking my daughter down to kindergarten and before anyone was even in the district office.

  Upon reaching the kindergarten class and seeing my daughter off to school, I was pulled into the elementary office where they were having internet problems. After troubleshooting in the elementary office I headed down to the server room to restart the wifi controller which seemed to be the source of the problem. Once everything was settled and internet was restored, I got a call from the kitchen telling me that they were experiencing problems on the lunch counter computer. This computer is wired so the wifi controller couldn’t have been the cause. It turns out that somehow the wired connection on their computer had been disabled, so I simply re-enabled it and got the lunch counter going again. I then sat down with the kitchen computer which had been replicating several new kinds of adware and was unable to access any kind of internet browser. I solved this problem too, all before I got back to my classroom to turn on my computer.

  I tell you this not because I feel overworked or want to be appreciated for what I do. I tell you this because each one of these problems required a direct, hands on solution that could not have been handled by remote support. These kinds of problems are common everyday issues in any school. We cannot expect every teacher to be a technology expert and we cannot expect other teachers or administrators to step away from their job to provide technical support.

  Imagine the situation where our support was instead based in Anacortes and would have to arrive from the mainland the following day. We have a full day with Stephanie’s monitor not working, the kitchen doing all finances by hand and unable to make their daily reports, and no internet available in the elementary classrooms, offices, or principal’s office. The money saved by keeping these individuals up and running far outweighs the cost of my time. This was all done and I still taught my classes on this day. As a note, this isn’t a random mythical day. It was last Wednesday, shortly after I was informed by the Superintendant that the technology program was being gutted.

  I am here to ask that the current technology program be allowed to remain as it is. It provides much needed support for our staff and education for our students. This is the time to be growing our technology program, not decreasing it. The expectation of our students entering either college or the work place is that they are computer literate. The belief that our students will learn what they need on their own or at home simply isn’t true. Children today will be directly affected by the choices they make online for the rest of their lives. Failing to provide them with a suitable education with regards to their involvement in the internet is simply an unconscionable choice.

  I’d ask you to think back to something you did in your teenage years. Something, perhaps, that you are not proud of. The members of the school board have the luxury of this only being a memory in the minds of those present at the time. This is not the reality our students live in. Imagine instead that your friend with you took pictures, posted them online, and it became the top hit when someone searched your name, even today. The actions of our students online can be like tattoos or scars they carry for the rest of their lives. If we are giving each of our students access to a tattoo gun, we best be assured they know how to use it.

  The state and federal government have been very clear as to the direction of technology in education. The common core standards for Language Arts state that children in the 6th grade must be publishing their work online. We are facing the impending Smarter Balanced Assessments that will first test the digital competency of a student before it can accurately assess mathematics and literacy. Where do we expect our students to gain the skills necessary to navigate these assessments? How can we test students on machine they are entirely unfamiliar with and expect them to succeed?

  In the two years I’ve been here, we as a school have made great steps forward with regards to technology education. Our first through fifth graders are learning to type, creating presentations, word-processing thanks to the work of Lisa Shelby bringing technology to the forefront of the elementary school. Most of our secondary teachers are posting due dates, assignments, and lessons online for students who were absent or otherwise missed these important details. We have established a course in 6th grade in which students learn about cyberbullying, internet safety, 3D design, programming, email usage, typing, website creation, blogging, and digital citizenship through simulation. In the digital video class students have found a voice to air their opinions to the community as activists and artists. Our juniors and seniors have learned how to control their online image and prevent damaging information about them from becoming public. Finally, they produced an online portfolio presenting their crowning achievements from their high school career to be made available to parents, grandparents, college admissions officers, and future employers. By cutting the technology program, you are saying that this is not the kind of education our children need. By reducing technology education you are placing our students at a serious disadvantage compared to students graduating from other schools.

  My final point comes in the part of four questions. Without this position how can we make sure technical support is available to students and teachers at all times during the school day? Who will be responsible for making sure our school moves forward with 21st century technology? Who will make sure that our students are protecting themselves and their reputation online? Finally, if we don’t take the responsibility to make sure our students are computer literate aren’t we further punishing the students in our community who are already at the greatest economic disadvantage?