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School Committee Sees Need For New District Technology Director

While no decision was made on Monday night and no decision may be made this year due to budgetary pressures, the role may be filled sometime in the near future if Monday's meeting was any indication.

 

Westford’s schools will more than likely have to face another year of difficult decisions during this spring’s discussions on the next fiscal year’s budget, and one of those decisions was up front and center during Monday night’s School Committee meeting.

Members on the board brought three school level technology directors to testify on the possibility of reintroducing a districtwide technology coordinator, refilling a role that was vacated four years ago.

After hearing reports gathered from the trio presented by Crisafulli School technology director Andrea Gardner that members of the board believed helped crystallize the reasoning to bring back a director, a variety of other reasons were also brought forth to help support the need for filling the position ranging from saving money through better planning of services and increased direct assistance for students on technology issues.

Regarding the possible responsibilities of a new director, possibilities for helping parents understand dangers children may face was also joined by helping younger children and their parents better understand the array of technology they will use in schools.

“The turnover in technology is going faster than ever than ever in my life,” said School Committee member Arthur Benoit. “We need to have a focused attack (when it comes to technology policies) and someone at the top level of the district defining what that technology is.”

Gardner and her colleagues spoke of the need on that note for someone that could unify the “nine islands” of the school district and spread best practices effectively.

“We get very excited (about new technologies) at our own buildings, and we want to share what we find works with each other, but it’s difficult since we’re so involved with our own buildings,” said Abbot School technology director Lisa Sanderson. “We find ideas, but they come and stay with us. We might be able to get one or two teachers to use it in the classroom, but it’s hard for anything to truly catch on.”

The strongest voice of opposition came from Margaret Murray, who still supported bringing back the position, only in Fiscal Year 2015 rather than ’14, also noting that the responsibilities with the position would have to include helping further integrate technology to simplify administrative tasks as well as an overarching strategy on technology centered around a new director.

The School Committee will be on hand to testify to a joint budget hearing of the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen on Thursday evening.

CORRECTION: The decision to place a line item for the technology coordinator position was not made on Monday, but rather at the last School Committee meeting.

Other additions include...

3 Literacy Specialists at grades 3-5 to address recent MCAS deficiencies 

Reading Interventionist hours at Abbot & Crisafulli to achieve equity with Day

Reading and Math Interventionist hours for grade 8 students 

.4 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Math Teacher at WA to reduce class sizes below 30 students

.4 FTE English Teacher at WA to replace Alternative Ed teacher now teaching English

Instructional Technology Specialist WA (Increase from 1.5 to 2.0 FTE)

3 Special Ed Teacher Assistants 

.2 FTE Mandarin teacher for new Mandarin section

.4 FTE Math Teacher to allow Curriculum Coordinator to assume those duties full time

.4 FTE ELA Teacher to allow Curriculum Coordinator to assume those duties full time

Christine Jones January 15, 2013 at 02:33 PM
Westford needs a knowledgeable, creative & dynamic individual in this position so, so badly. As a recent newcomer to town, I was dismayed to find the use technology in Westford schools to be narrow and outdated, in both breadth & depth. I would say Westford is probably a decade behind the last place we lived. Teachers obviously need more training and support to integrate technology into their everyday teaching, (yes, use it EVERY DAY, even in Elementary School, not just one project a semester) while teachers also need to be monitored, & made accountable for what they do. Best practices need to be shared. Technology needs updating in some cases, & what there is needs to be used more effectively. The use of technology need to be coordinated across the district to ensure all children receive the same high quality instruction, regardless of what school, or what teachers they have. The High School should have a proper IT department, teaching current & relevant courses. Few girls seem to take Technology courses in Westford. Why is this? Someone should be charged with responsibility for ALL of this! In this day and age, NOT having someone in this position is doing all Westford kids a grave disservice. 
Dan D. January 15, 2013 at 02:57 PM
And yet, Westford still manages to be one of the best school systems in the state. Hire a tech director? Only with clear objectives that will have specific cost reduction numbers, and insurance that objectives are in line with both administration and teachers needs, not just tech for tech's sake (way too many IT directors in the private sector are in that category) AND find the monies in the existing budget (i.e., de-fund a less critical position). It should not be the positions responsibility to "educate" parents on dangers of technology. Any responsible parent who has been awake during the past couple decades won't need the schools to tell them the obvious.
Christine Jones January 15, 2013 at 03:50 PM
I agree that the job description should not include educating parents. Not WPS's responsibility at all. Quite the wrong way to go. I also agree monies should be found within the existing budget. I also agree, of course that the position should have clear objectives, and the incumbent should be assessed annually on their performance. Accountability all the way! -  However, as ot stands now, there is no accountability *anywhere*, that I can see. No one is monitoring the curriculum or it's delivery, there is no long-term vision. Current provision is fragmented & patchy. What monies that have been invested in technology are being wasted. Teachers are not getting the support they need. Kids are being shortchanged.  As an aside, yes, Westford does well when compared to other school systems in the state, but then it should do well, taking into account the socio economic make-up of the intake. How much extra value does the school system really add?  No one knows.  Are we producing creative problem solvers? Effective critical thinkers? Are the kids developing skills necessary to compete in the global market? I don't think parents should be complacent. Scoring well on MCAS is not the only criteria that should be used to measure success.
Vincent DiRico January 15, 2013 at 09:26 PM
More more more how do you like it how do you like it Well actually I DON'T! In the dreaded private sector the "9 islands" would be told to solve the problem AND IT WOULD GET DONE! Let's see, weekly meetings of the "minds", communicate the need to solve it, set goals, start down a path solving it. BUT NOOOO the hand shoots out.
Sam January 15, 2013 at 11:37 PM
This is the new America. Cry and try and convince the masses the sky is falling. "Then" stick out your hand. God forbid you oppose the new expenditures. You are cast as evil and uncaring. Come on Vincent, how can you oppose providing our kids the best technology possible.
Townie January 15, 2013 at 11:55 PM
Always amazing when the WPS doesn't want to 'find' $$$$, they are not there yet when the town wants something the money magically appears. After teachers were walked all over last year because the town is going broke in 2014 this is insulting that's it's even being talked about right now. Typewriters and notebooks were good enough back in the 70s they are good enough today
Townie January 15, 2013 at 11:56 PM
As an aside couldn't the patch find a more flattering Harkness photo? She looks like she is pandering drinking turpentine
Mary Jo January 16, 2013 at 09:34 AM
For Pete's sake School Committee we heard from you last year you were trying to save existing jobs by withholding money previously budgeted for teachers steps but then we see you add new positions (non mandated as nobody will show the specific mandates even for the sped positions) a full time armed cop at WA, and now are considering bringing back an $80,000 per year IT administrative position??!! And you wonder why you have such little credibility with teachers?
Dan D. January 16, 2013 at 03:51 PM
Great approach, Vincent! Maybe our superintendent will get the ones responsible for the 9 islands in a room and tell them they must coordinate and come up with a Westford wide plan. Make it part of the condition of employment to do it and do it quickly, say within a month. If they don't, put them on performance notice and replace them. I'm sure replacements could be found.
Fuller January 17, 2013 at 06:58 AM
Bring on the prop 2.5 vote! iPads for all students!
Christi January 17, 2013 at 02:26 PM
I would like my taxes to be spent more wisely, and this is precisely why I support the appointment of an IT director, within the existing budget. IT provision in Westford is a mess. Spending appears adhoc and wasteful; I understand that a ton of itouches were acquired recently, yet seemingly they are never used. The teachers know they should be doing a better job; they are the ones petitioning the School Committee for the position to be reinstated. The kids know they are being shortchanged; ask any current WA student or recent Graduate. Ask them how easy it is to even get on the server at school. Ask them their views on computer courses that teach outdated content. Ask them about their frustrations at not being allowed to use their own Personal Electronic Devices in school (well, not officially, anyway!). They aren't even allowed to use Kindles! The district doesn't need to give kids ipads if they are allowed to use their own devices. I moved here because the school system has a decent reputation. I am very disappointed. I see parents spending a fortune on tutoring and Kumon type services to compensate for gaps in learning. I see some very talented teachers, and teachers who consistently put in 110%, but also some very mediocre ones, who do little more than 'phone it in' everyday. More accountability is required from top to bottom, across the board, and I do see this appointment as a step in the right direction.
McGirk January 18, 2013 at 09:28 AM
Maybe this mediocrity is a result of Westford's "expect steak, pay for hotdogs" mentality when it comes to competitively paying its teachers finally starting to take its toll (and not or the better!) After the way teachers were treated lastvyearvi am not sure it's a surprise to hear perhaps fewer are consistently willing to go above and beyond when the SCs attitude of "least possible" is so apparent (not to mention contagious!!!)
Jack Boston January 21, 2013 at 07:22 PM
The School District is supposed to be using/sharing the Technology Director of the Town. A memorandum of understanding was signed about 5 years ago and all was fine until the IT person (McClure) left. Let's focus on this person and if that person is not qualified, then let's fix that and not continually grow the payroll because the Supt's inability to manage the existing personnel.
Peter C January 21, 2013 at 09:54 PM
Trust between teachers and School Administration nosedived last year and has NOT recovered... Now the SC has the audacity to keep adding bodies!? Talk about rubbing salt in wounds.. Let it heal over SC Chair Harkness before you stick it to teachers again
Peter C January 22, 2013 at 07:38 AM
Schools should be top priority right?
Vincent DiRico January 22, 2013 at 08:58 AM
Schools yes, WASTE NO! Save your moaning there is still plenty of pain to come!
Fullmeister January 25, 2013 at 10:59 AM
Our Schools have always been like Meineke Muffler, we get alot but we dont want to PAY alot! Add all the new positions and force teachers to take delay of steps and ZEROs again next year- worked for the town last time right? Who cares about Teacher Morale we want results!
Martin Luther February 10, 2013 at 09:51 PM
Two different IT dogs or directors. The school IT director used to be responsible for establishing classroom and library technology programs that would be visionary in nature. Westford for many years was designated a Lighthouse school because of its integration of classroom subjects and technology. For example, middle school students were required to publish a book integrating the use of technology and processes learned in Language Arts. Databases and bibliographies were generated as part of the project. The town network manager was given the IT Director to justify a higher salary. The town IT director is in charge of the WAN and town LANs and support the school WANs and LANs. Coup de etat. 3 years ago , Supt. Olsen decided to away with the WPS Director of Technology so he could keep a $90,000/year plus secretary Athletic Director. In FY11 and FY12, WPS received over $7 million of Federal Stimulus Funding of which most of it was waste on tinker toys without any technology plan in plan.
Martin Luther February 10, 2013 at 09:56 PM
You have no clue what it is in store for FY15 and beyond. Would you believe layoff of 120 teachers, 10 policemen, 8 firemen, 20 miscellaneous town employees. The alternative is and increase of 16% to 18% in real estate taxes.
Townie February 10, 2013 at 10:35 PM
More gloom and Doom from JJ (Note last year he made such doomsday predictions for FY2014)
Martin Luther February 11, 2013 at 01:32 AM
Townie!!! Westford is formulating FY14 budget now. Read the Patch on the differences between FinCom, Town Manager and School Committee for the FY14 budget to be presented to the 23 March 2013 Annual Town Meeting. My predictions are based on facts and 30 plus years of experience on the structure and operations of local government.
Townie February 11, 2013 at 10:27 AM
Looks then like WPS Teachers will be likely 'working to rule' indefinitely in 2014 because if things are as bad as Jesse says for FY2015 guess the contract tendered to teachers next year is gonna be a last year repeat insulting and the games will begin. Looks like town meeting next month is going to be such a 3 ring circus that I will expect midgets shot from cannon, elephants, monkeys, clown cars and the like. I find it 'interesting' then that as we are on the supposed verge of mass layoffs that the initial school budget for next year included numerous NEW positions. Something doesnt smell right if you know what Im sayin
Alex Finnegan April 08, 2013 at 03:58 PM
Looking at the budget means nothing to most people. You have to know how to "read" them and decipher the slick moves.

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