Board pushes digital learning topic to April 4

Introducing digital learning to Greenwich Public Schools was once again up for discussion at last week’s Board of Education meeting, but with a number of questions still unanswered, the board chose to postpone any definitive decisions.

The board will take it up again at its April 4 work session at 7 p.m. in the Havemeyer Building.

At the board’s March 21 meeting, Chairman Leslie Moriarty explained that further discussion of several elements of the district’s digital learning plan was necessary before taking the plan any further, including focusing more on the scope of the pilot, expectations and time frame.

The board continues to work with Pearson Digital Learning, a private company that has a contract with the district that will carry through the completion of at least an outline of a digital learning plan. After Pearson presented initial phasing costs for the plan earlier this month, however, the board asked the company to rerun the numbers based on a different initial phasing plan. The numbers for the revised plan, though, were not available until the night before last week’s meeting — far too little time for board members to appropriately review them to make an immediate decision, Superintendent of Schools William McKersie said.

The topic was also brought up during the public hearing portion of the meeting. Peter Bernstein, president of the Hamilton Avenue PTA, said the board needed to focus on metrics “to measure what success is before you begin a pilot, before you begin a rollout” of the digital learning initiative. And although the board has expressed a focus on improved learning through a personalized approach rather than digital devices, Mr. Bernstein added, “I think we all agree that success means something more than getting devices in the hands of students and teachers. This is a massive change for the long term.”

Laura Erickson, a former PTA president who said she was speaking as a parent at Thursday’s meeting, expressed her optimism about the digital learning initiative. “I’m thrilled beyond measure that the board and administration are addressing digital learning with a view towards districtwide implementation,” she said. “This is the good stuff. This is the stuff PTAs have been talking about for years.”

It’s not a bad thing to have teachers experimenting with “the digital tools of their trade,” since students “already have this pretty much figured out,” Ms. Erickson said. However, she warned, although technology is a useful tool, it is important that it not become “a distraction or reason cited if we succeed or fall short” of expectations. Greenwich has the resources to implement a digital learning plan, she said, and now the goal must be to develop a program that will keep pace with ever-changing technology.

When it was the board’s turn to broach the topic, Dr. McKersie explained that now is the time to devise a general outline for a digital learning plan rather than the specific details associated with it.

“Once it’s clear what an outline of the work will be, this will be a very interactive process,” Dr. McKersie said, “because it has to be, because it’s so central to the teaching and learning in Greenwich.”

With assistance from Irene Parisi, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, and professional learning, Dr. McKersie spoke to the board about the district’s research into a digital learning plan, which involved reviewing digital learning programs in 13 Connecticut districts, including nearby school systems such as Stamford and Darien. Although each district is at a different phase, they have all begun implementation of digital learning programs, meaning Greenwich Public Schools are already behind in the initiative, Dr. McKersie said.

“No leading educator in the country is not talking about [digital learning] as a key approach,” he said.

But with other major school projects being pushed through in the upcoming school year, including the $42-million music instructional space and auditorium (MISA), board member Peter Sherr said he wondered if the district could simultaneously implement a digital learning initiative. A major proponent of digital learning, Mr. Sherr said he is not opposed to the initiative but that the board would have to be aware of what they were getting into.

“We’re going to have to come up with a practical and pragmatic plan to deliver all these things,” he said.

Dr. McKersie, however, held firm that digital learning was imperative to the success of district students, regardless of other ongoing projects.

“This isn’t a pilot. This is about ensuring that the Greenwich Public Schools truly are the best in the state and the best in the nation, because in several years if we’re not in at least at a one-to-five [student-to-computer] ratio — I’m picking that number — but somewhere there, we will be severely hampering the education of our students,” Dr. McKersie said.

A revised digital learning plan will be presented at the April 4 work session, at which point board members are expected to have a full-scale discussion on digital learning and the outlines of a plan.

 

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