JSD invests in up-to-date tech

District budgets $300,000 to address aging equipment

Hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Juneau School District’s fiscal year 2013 budget will go to making sure students, teachers and parents have up-to-date, useful technology.

JSD Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich defended these costs and other additional expenses added to the Juneau School District’s FY13 budget at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday at the Hangar on the Wharf Ballroom.

“If my job is to insure that we have greater success even during a declining resource environment, those additions into the budget are necessary,” Gelbrich said. “They are not sort of necessary, they are completely necessary, or we won’t have a very good answer to ‘how are our kids doing?’”

Gelbrich joined the Juneau School District in July 2009.

One area where the district is putting an additional $300,000 is to maintain a cycle of replacing slow, out-dated computer hardware with current tech.

“We don’t have a refreshment cycle,” Gelbrich said. “In almost all of your businesses you have a refreshment cycle for things to wear out,” Gelbrich said to the Chamber of Commerce Thursday. “You plan that things are gong to wear out. We haven’t. We should have, but we haven’t.”

Now that the district is preparing for future tech obsolescence, there is an additional hit to the budget.

“Why is that important, why can’t we put it off another year?” Gelbrich asked. “Because the equipment is interfering with the instructional process today. It did yesterday, it will tomorrow. If we don’t invest it will continue to interfere with the instructional process.”

Gelbrich said the computers teachers use for instruction fail on a regular basis when expected to handle data at high speed and volume.

“And when they fail they end up interrupting instructional time. It can be three minutes or it can be 30 minutes,” Gelbrich said.

Gelbrich said the district attempts to allocate its resources to technologies that work.

“As much as possible, we want to be current, but at the same time we don’t want to chase toys,” Gelbrich said. “We want to make sure that what we are using is serious equipment, purposefully used and prepare kids for what they are doing and where they are headed.”

To get new and innovative technologies into classrooms, coupled with innovative teaching techniques to accompany, the district has started a small action research project. About a dozen teachers have filed a plan for the use of technology and instruction surrounding it. The teacher also takes a graduate-level research class to question ways of using certain technology to improve student learning. If they are awarded the grant, they receive equipment like the Apple iPads in kindergarten classrooms at Mendenhall River Elementary.

Teachers then monitor student learning and file a report on their findings.

“So there is an accountability,” Gelbrich said. “We don’t have the resources available to blanket the schools with technology.“

To attempt to address problems accessing the Internet, the district added $62,000 to increase the budget for Internet access and internal electronic communications.

“Increasing the budget may not solve the difficulty, but reflects current costs,” according to the district budget.

Online registration is another example of how technology might help save time and money for the school district and students’ parents.

He said currently, parents must fill out registration packets for each student every year. Eliminating some of this extra paperwork is good for customer service, he said.

“It’s good for kids, it’s even better for you,” he said.

But, he added, it also has the potential to keep more funds in the district’s coffers.

“Now imagine every one of those forms has to be handled, more than once, by multiple people for each of your children each year,” Gelbrich said. Online registration could save the district the equivalent of one hired position, he said.

The role of the registration committee is to set up a system where parents register from home or a kiosk, “and never change it again,” — except things like for moving or a change of guardianship, he said.

Gelbrich also assured Chamber members that the school district’s calendar will include an annual spring break. One early draft of a calendar for the 2012-13 school year omitted the break in favor of ending school for the summer one week early, in order to avoid disrupting student preparation for standardized tests.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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