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February 06. 2013 9:35PM

Nashua school officials debate future of books

NASHUA - The board of education is discussing its strategic three-year plan and a series of changes aimed at boosting student and teacher performance from next year until 2016-2017 school year.

The administration is seeking $165,000 this year to promote student literacy, a number that would remain steady in 2015 and 2016. If the budget is approved, the funds would be used to purchase hard-copy books for classrooms throughout the district.

But board member David Murotake said he wonders about the prudence of investing in books in the context of the "21st-century classroom."

"A lot of students are much more motivated to read if they can read it on their netbook or their iPad," Murotake said at a workshop meeting on Monday. "On the other hand, there are people who really hate using ebook readers and would rather touch a book."

The proposed changes - which include not only literacy but stretch across math, science and social studies - are part of the superintendent's 2014 budget and would cost $383,000.

Thomas Vaughn, who chairs the committee, recalled how much he valued libraries when he was in school.

"Are we saying we don't really need those libraries?" Vaughn said in reference to the amount being allocated to improve classroom libraries.

"If I were a librarian in the district, I would be a little jealous," he said.

Dennis Ryder, the board's senior member, said at Monday's budget committee meeting that he doesn't think hard-copy books are going to be around in 30 or 40 years.

"The kids even read the newspaper on computers," he said.

Ryder reminded the board that it's all about the students, who prefer electronic devices over books.

"It's not what we want; it's what they want," he said. "Ask the younger ones, see what they think. They're the future."

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Althea Sheaff said libraries already exist in classrooms, where teachers loan out the books. "There's certainly a need for books," she said.

Superintendent Mark Conrad said the three-year strategic planning process is still in its preliminary phases and that the board's comments will be taken into account as it develops further.

Board member Steven Haas also spoke on behalf of books. "I like to read a book and hold it, and I think there's a lot of people that still do."

"I still firmly believe that hard, tangible books have value in our classrooms and in our libraries," he said.

Haas said free apps might be available, but the electronic device is not free.

Member William Mosher also weighed in on the side of books. "Another wonderful thing about a book is that it doesn't need to be recharged."

Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Seusing said nothing has been allocated for science in the strategic planning budget for 2014.

She said the iPads approved by the board of education for sixth-grade science classes last year cost about $170,000. Though the original plan was to expand the acquisition of iPads in subsequent years, she said it is still unclear whether the administration considers the first round of iPads to have been a success.

"We've decided we'd rather hold off for a year to purchase, to ascertain the effectiveness of the iPad with the science students," she said. "I'm not totally confident yet that that's the device that we want to have for science."

According to the three-year plan, $238,000 could be allocated for science improvement in 2015, and $198,000 the following year.

The district also seeks to purchase new Algebra 2 textbooks, along with iPads that would serve as loaners for students without access to electronic device. Social studies books are the only other textbooks that would be replaced next school year.

srios@newstote.com


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