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February 13. 2013 11:14PM

Nashua schools see tech-filled future, and challenges

NASHUA - The board of education broached the question of technology in the classroom Wednesday night following a memo from the mayor's office requesting that the district cut its proposed budget increases in half.

Of the five positions the district looks to add in the coming year, two are for technology integration teachers at the elementary and high schools.

"The intent here is to create online labs in the high schools where students could sign up for (online) courses during the regular school day," said Superintendent Mark Conrad at the budget committee meeting. "It's cost effective, at least for the district."

The proposed addition is in response to the increasing number of students taking courses through the Virtual Academy Charter School, a state-certified school with 125 instructors.

A hundred online high school and middle school courses are available through the program, which allows students to apply credits to high school transcripts.

"This is New Hampshire's approach to supporting online education," Conrad said.

The administration says the new position would allow 25 to 50 students at each high school to use lab space for online education.

VLACS offers enrichment for students performing above the bar. Conrad said a small number of eighth-graders are taking geometry at the city's middle schools years ahead of their classmates.

It also provides flexibility, allowing students to take courses they weren't able to fit into their schedules in addition to courses not available in many districts, including Mandarin.

The renewed emphasis on technology integration comes at a time of increased gadgetry in Nashua classrooms, from iPads and document cameras to netbook carts and interactive whiteboards.

The administration says technology is much less likely to have an impact if teachers aren't supported on integrating technology into curriculum, instruction and assessment.

"You're seeing a lot of technology coming into the classroom (from different sources). but once it gets into place there's not support," Conrad said.

The superintendent referenced the laptops donated to elementary schools by Dell and Digital Wish in recent years.

"I'm convinced the results were as strong as they were not because you put laptops in the hands of those students, but because Dell gets it, and they committed a technology integration teacher to work with (teachers) to assure they were being effective in how they instructed technology as a tool."

One technology integration teacher is currently assigned at the elementary level, in addition to five others, one at each middle and high school.

At the elementary level, the district wants to add a second technology integration specialist. Conrad said the one currently in the elementary schools is partly funded by federal Title 1 money and has to spend half of her days at the city's Title 1 schools.

"Her time is pretty well booked," he said.

Both technology integration teachers would supervise students and provide trouble-shooting help.

Board member Dr. David Murotake noted that when charter schools first came online, they were considered an either-or alternative to standard public schools.

"This is actually an enrichment (component) of VLACS that may not have been anticipated by the state when they created the program," Murotake said.

The meeting came after school officials received a memo from Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, urging the district to deliver a budget with no more than a 1 percent increase. The $97,638,300 budget proposed by the superintendent represents a 2.01 percent increase, or nearly $2 million over the current budget.

"It is most important that we develop a budget that keeps the tax rate as stable as possible, while providing the services that our residents and businesses have come to expect," Lozeau wrote.

The mayor's request pressures the school board to shave $1 million from the current proposal.

Conrad has said previously that the proposed increase comes after years of jettisoning sorely needed items in the school budget.

srios@newstote.com


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