HOLDEN, Mass — After the school district's recent request for a special town meeting for their technology initiative was met with an onslaught of questions from selectmen and the community, school officials hope that the launch of their new aim21.org website will be a vital tool to help disseminate information on their ongoing plan for digital conversion.
"What we heard from the community is that they wanted a couple things, they wanted information and they wanted a plan," said Superintendent Thomas Pandiscio, who added that he had just left a meeting during which he and his staff were putting the final touches on a five-year plan for the initiative.
"We got a sense from the meetings that people wanted information on our plan for the use of technology? What are our plans are for its application? Why the iPad? Who else is doing it? Why now? and so forth — so we just started brainstorming some conceptual responses, and that's where the website came from," he said.
In October, the school committee had voted unanimously to support the request for special town meetings in January, and letters were sent to the various selectboards offering to present more information for them to base their decisions.
Yet the response from selectmen was less supportive, and though some were in favor of the technology initiative itself, many were left unsatisfied with the explanations on how the plan would impact the budget, and unconvinced of the need for such expediency.
School Committee member Julie Kelley said that she thought the response received from member town selectmen was one of frustration, due to the committee's "complete lack of predicate in making this request of them."
"As a committee we have long recognized the need to implement technology in classroom instruction, and further the tremendous costs associated with the basic capital investment necessary to do so" she said. "Where we failed is effectively relaying that information out to our communities."
After attending a regional selectboard meeting, Holden's own board of selectmen voted 4-1 against approving a special town meeting, and their misgivings were echoed by decisions in other member towns.
"The decision to request [special town meetings] was that of the committee," said Kelley, "and as such the responsibility to provide critical information so our towns residents can make an informed decision on our request falls squarely on our shoulders."
She continued: "I take full responsibility for this, and look to change the way our Committee functions in our communities so that timely information on important District matters is disseminated in a user-friendly and consistent manner to all stakeholders."
As a user-friendly and accessible medium for information, Pandsicio hopes Aim21.org will be an educational tool for both teachers and the community "in terms of where we are going with technology both as a school and a school district, as well as a society."
The website helps outline the district's plans for implementing digital conversion, provides links to videos and resources, as well as examples of how technology is being used in education elsewhere.
For teachers, Pandisico said the goal is to have the site be a source for awareness, and for in-depth understanding about the efforts toward digital conversion.
The school district has been trying to support places where teachers are already using technology with more resources, as well as encouraging other teachers to emulate those practices.
"Teachers aren't going to show up and say, please change my practice," said Pandiscio. "We see a great divide in faculties in many cases between young and old regarding the use of technology, and sometimes it's departmental, but we don't normally have to sell a second year teacher on the utility and value of a website to communicate assignments to parents and students. From that website application, its not a long trip to a more paperless environment where we're doing things more digitally. That's a much harder sell to somebody who's been teaching for 20 years."
Additionally, Kelley hopes the website will be a first step toward better communication with the communities, and noted that it highlights some of the key challenges faced by the district.
"I believe Dr. Pandiscio and his staff in creating this website have done a fine job in laying the foundation of providing information on what the District is currently doing, and which evidence-based research they relied on to make those decisions," she said. "My vision, which I am sure is shared by the entire committee, is to build on that foundation in sharing information.
"The section provided on the status of our budget shortfall is one that is of paramount importance for our community to be made aware of and understand," she continued. "The present very complex state funding system for education is woefully inadequate and places hardships on both our District's ability to provide an appropriate education to all students, and our member towns' ability to pay the District's budget. Wachusett is rock bottom in per pupil spending, and as such this affects our ability to build in technology capital expenditures into our general budget as other districts such as Shrewsbury and Ashburnham-Westminister are easily able to do."
Furthermore, Kelley said that the district's low per pupil spending does not equate to the member towns being in a position to pay more for education.
"The basic amount we require to raise spending to the level that other regional districts within our cohort are spending is clearly not in our towns' present tax capacity," she said. "I completely understand and appreciate the budget challenges they face every year, as I know Dr. Pandiscio does also. My goal as a school committee member is to change the way we do things -- get information out to the community and build strong relationships with the governing bodies of our towns so we can work in collaboration to meet our mutual goals of maintaining our fantastic communities while offering the best education we can for our children, who will be the leaders of our towns in the future."
What do you think of the new aim21.org website? What questions do you have about the district's push toward digital conversion and technology in schools? Register or sign in to comment below.