By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — One of the major driving forces in education in the 21st century is technology, whether it be in the classroom or behind the scenes. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Niagara Falls City School District.
Or, at least, such is the opinion of many of the district's chief administrators, who presented the city's school board with an update to its technology plan Thursday.
Part of the update focused on what board members and the general public can expect technology-wise from the district's capital improvement project, called the Inventing Tomorrow project, as work begins to ramp up this summer.
"We look at technology as the great equalizer in education," Superintendent Cynthia Bianco said. "Look at our STEM labs we're building in our capital project. When we went to the state, we were the first to propose these. Now everyone's doing it. And the same thing with our SMART Boards in the last capital project. Others had them in individual schools, but we were the first to have them district-wide."
Together with the STEM — which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — labs, the capital project is also scheduled to make wireless internet technology available to students throughout the district in each of the district's schools.
It's all part of a plan to ensure each student has the ability to take the state's standardized tests on a computer if the examinations ever become digital, a move some expect possible as early as 2015.
Accommodating the new testing wouldn't just require internet access for all students, it would also require the district to provide computers to each student enrolled in the buildings so they can take their tests. They all must meet specifications set forth by the online test creators, which led Administrator for Information Services Darlene Sprague and her technology task force to develop a plan.
In it, Sprague said, each available technology was explored concerning allowing students to take exams. They knew they needed affordable machines which come with a keyboard, can have a mouse attached and could run the software. She said tablets, laptops, iPads and others were examined and the committee decided to purchase netbooks — typically described as miniature laptops - for each student.
"We determined each student in a classroom would have access to a device," she said. "The state said pick for instructional use, but they also had to meet requirements for taking the tests."
Maple Avenue and Geraldine J. Mann elementaries will be the first two buildings brought into this program, Sprague said, with computers expected to be available starting in September. Each additional building will receive its computers as the WiFi service is installed, she added.
In addition, she said pilot programs in the coming years would also bring tablet machines, like iPads and other handheld computers, into the classrooms to be used by teachers demonstrating coursework which would benefit from their inclusion.
More topics are expected to be discussed at the next city school board meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday in the district's meeting auditorium in the administration building, 630 66th St. Presentations are also expected to precede the meeting, beginning at 5:30 p.m.Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.