With a few finger taps on a projector screen affixed to the wall, Niagara Street Elementary School third-grader Ryan Kinney changed the screen’s display from a simple projector to an interactive vocabulary exercise.

And the technology could be entering schools districtwide by 2009.

The Niagara Falls School Board visited the Niagara Street School Thursday to evaluate the usefulness of interactive touch-screen projectors called SMART boards.

The board has been considering spending about $8 million on the purchase and installation of 472 SMART boards to be distributed among all of the district’s schools.

Third- and fifth-grade students demonstrated to board members how the interactive projectors can be used to practice grammar and learn new vocabulary more efficiently than a traditional chalk board.

Third-grader Jordan Shelton wrote the word “slap” on the projector with the tip of her index finger. The board’s software was able to identify the word to check its spelling and identify that it’s a verb.

“They (the students) like that they don’t have to erase the board,” said third-grade teacher Tammy Zaker. “They can go back and always see their work.”

Though the board members said they were impressed by the presentation, Don King voiced concerns of the technology becoming dated, requiring the district to spend millions of dollars for additional upgrades in only a few years.

King said he is in favor of the SMART boards but past technological contracts have caused long-term problems and he doesn’t want to see a repeat.

“I think it’s our responsibility to make sure our investments are protected,” King said.

But the SMART boards have the capacity for future use, even as technology changes, said Darlene Sprague, the district information administrator.

“The technology itself — the board — does not go out of date because the software behind it is renewable and that part of it is free to anybody,” said Sprague. “Ten years from now, that technology would grow based on the software used.”

Board member Carm Rotella said despite the high cost, the district is in a position to make the investment on behalf of the students.

“I realize it’s a lot of money but we aren’t raising taxes,” she said. “We aren’t laying off anyone. It’s capital projects money and I know we have other things, but I think this is so important. When I saw those students so engaged today on the SMART boards, I was very, very impressed.”

After some discussion, the board gave Superintendent Carmen Granto the nod to move forward on planning with Cannon Design on a list of recommended capital projects proposed at last week’s meeting.

Once plans are finalized with Cannon, they can be sent to the state for Excel aid approval.

In addition to the projectors, recommended projects included new parking lot drop off zones at seven sites, upgrades at Gaskill Preparatory School’s kitchen, administration building roof repairs and security upgrades.

About $800,000 can be shaved off technology upgrades at the high school, Sprague said. That will leave the district with $1.4 million in extra money to spend of the planned $17.2 million in capital projects.

With the money, the board could consider pursuing a previously nixed project, such as revamping the pool, Granto said.

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