Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of this fall’s local elections primary. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for the Shawnee Mission Board of Education.
Today, we begin publishing the candidates’ responses. The first question was as follows:
Since last fall, a group of parent advocates have raised persistent questions about the district’s 1:1 technology initiative. Among the concerns they’ve voiced is that elementary students have been exposed to inappropriate content on their district issued devices even with the filtering technology the district has in place, and that students are spending hours of screen time each day on their devices. Are you comfortable with the implementation of the 1:1 initiative at the elementary school level? Why or why not?
School District Member 1 (SM North area)
I’m not comfortable with the implementation of the 1:1 initiative at the Elementary level. The rollout was problematic – staff weren’t given enough training, and there were issues with the software interfacing with the wifi – and both of those issues seem to persist.
I believe that we need to teach our children how to appropriately use technology, and that it is the district’s responsibility to do so, but we must do it the right way.
To do this well we must have classroom staff fully trained to troubleshoot problems in order to get students back to learning with the least inconvenience. Some problems won’t be resolved at the classroom level, so we also need IT staff to be more available to respond to internet outages at the building level, and resolving requests for repairs and maintenance. For parents, teachers, and students, we need a robust trouble reporting mechanism that is both responsive, staffed well enough to respond rapidly, and meets high standards for customer service.
I don’t think we can talk about this issue without discussing digital citizenship and the gap SMSD has in teaching about technology use. I’m referring to the fact that we no longer have the fifth special, Computer Class, due to that special being cut by a previous administration. Students at the Elementary level used to learn about media source verification, digital citizenship (including school-appropriate internet use), introduction to programming, how to type, and other important skills. It doesn’t surprise me that after cutting the Computer special, we now find ourselves struggling in these areas.
There is one last aspect of classroom tech that needs to be addressed, and that is when iPads are used as a paper substitute rather than for access to unique learning opportunities or high quality educational apps that support a lesson. Studies show that people learn math and writing better by actually writing with pencil on paper – hands on – and not by typing into a device. The goal of having the best education is that we use the techniques that help students have the best learning, not the cheapest learning. I believe our teachers, many of whom are already teaching 6/5 sections with increased class sizes, choose the best apps for their lessons. I believe that hands on learning needs to take precedence over apps that reduce workload to a less-overwhelming level. We shouldn’t be relying on technology to prop up our overburdened staff – we need more teachers to reduce the current workload and reduce class sizes.
The district needs to adopt Balanced Usage guidelines to protect our students’ physical, social, emotional, and cognitive health and well-being. Elementary students’ exposure should be limited to specific assignments and occasional free-time with approved content and clear usage guidelines informed by input from experts and educators with specialized knowledge as to best practices, and the parent community.
While the 1:1 initiative allows students to access their grades, explore creative instructional applications, and supports assignment flexibility—tools especially useful for secondary students—I am not in favor of implementing any districtwide initiatives without a clearly identified, collaboratively agreed-upon, and communicated Plan of Usage. The USD 512 KSDE Technology Plan, approved by the SMSD BOE 6-16-14, reads:
“The Shawnee Mission School District will provide comprehensive education in a secure environment of cooperation and mutual respect among students, faculty, families, and the community. The school, family, and community will work together to enable students to develop self-confidence, self- discipline, the ability to work cooperatively with others, aesthetic awareness, recognition of the inevitability of change, and a commitment to learning throughout life.”
This has not been the case. Aside from dismissing, and failing to directly address questions and concerns from parents and educators regarding time spent and allowable content, there are serious ongoing challenges including VPN operational issues, and access issues such as changes in fluctuating device certification that minimize the usefulness of district devices.
Sara Goodburn (incumbent)
Yes, I believe the 1:1 initiative is not only important for our students but also levels the playing field for many of our students who would not otherwise have access to devices. That being said, I also realize that there have been valid concerns expressed by both parents and students since the launch. Like it or not, technology in our world is here to stay. I believe that the schools have the responsibility to equip our students with the necessary 21st century skills needed to navigate the world in which they will be living and working. The district also has the responsibility to create a system of use that allows our children to thrive, be safe and healthy, by using the knowledge of experts, emerging data, and best practices when it comes to delivering instruction and using technology in the classroom. It also has the task of educating our students on digital citizenship to mitigate the inherent risks that come with online usage. Technology is only one tool in the teacher’s tool box to enhance and personalize learning for students and should be integrated in the learning. Five years into the program, I was supportive of the creation of the Digital Learning Task Force to help with the task of defining best practices, reviewing current data and studies and alerting the district to possible issues inherent in the program. I know that recommendations from that group have already been implemented and others are in progress.
School District Member 3 (SM South area)
We are incredibly fortunate in the Shawnee Mission School District to have the resources to provide technology access to all students in preparation for a 21st century economy that demands technological competency.
At the same time, I share the concerns raised about the risks of excessive screen time and inappropriate content. While digital learning offers potential benefits like personalization and engagement, it may also negatively impact brain development, social-emotional skills and fine-motor skills. It is the responsibility of the district that provides these devices to also provide guidance to ensure a balanced approach that ensures technology enhances learning and is not a substitute for hands-on learning and physical activity.
Recommendations from the Digital Learning Task Force to improve communication around technology use in the classroom, promote online safety, balance screen time with social interaction and physical activity, and better integrate technology with learning and professional development were a good start. I believe we must do more to collect data and analyze the impact of the 1:1 technology initiative through a transparent process. Parents, district leaders and taxpayers should all have access to information that can help evaluate the cost, benefits, and success of the program.
Brian S. Brown
Our students have been given a tremendous tool to enhance their educational experience. I feel that there is value in students having access to technology that can be incorporated into classroom learning activities. That being said, from many of the individuals that I have spoken with on the matter, we would agree that the 1:1 technology rollout could have been better.
I would like to see the creation of a district policy on how technology is to be used in the classroom. This would review technology usage in the following areas: 1. teacher-lead learning and 2. Independent, student learning. I would also like to see a mechanism to centrally lock down devices so that they cannot utilized for recreational purposes. This policy would also outline maximums for usage at any given time.
In the area of content filtering, it is my understanding that students are currently being exposed to explicit, non-age appropriate content. This is not acceptable. There currently is no universal policy as to how to address this matter. My fear is that we will not address this issue until a student gets exposed to inappropriate material and brings legal action against the district. This is not protecting our students, we would be reacting to an issue that would have financial consequences attached to it. We need to have a proactive stance on this matter now to protect our children versus potentially waiting for litigation to determine what this policy should look like.
Without having these guidelines and /or controls in place, we are creating adversarial relationships between households and classrooms. By the creation of adequate district level policies around technology utilization and device management, I believe it will give educators more direction in how to manage / utilize technology at the classroom level. By doing this, the 1:1 technology initiative may be able to move forward with the support of all district patrons.
School District Member 5 (SM Northwest area)
Parent advocates have been raising concerns about the 1:1 initiative since it was first launched over five years ago. I was there, attending school board meetings and watching open forums at McEachen. At some of the earliest board meetings on the topic, parents and patrons brought concerns about the rapid pace of the technology roll-out, put into motion without sufficient planning or support. Concerns were backed by research and included limiting screen time limits, especially in the earlier grades, and ensuring that students using technology didn’t have access to inappropriate content.
The implementation of the 1:1 technology initiative would have been much better had it been phased in over time instead of happening all at once, along with appropriate support and professional development for teachers and building staff. Technology, when used appropriately, can be an amazing learning tool and create post-secondary and career opportunities for students after high school.
Instead, the roll-out of tablets and laptops was fast-tracked, with very little input from parents or training for teachers. While some parents are focused on a promise that the 1:1 initiative would lead to increased levels of achievement across the District, other district stakeholders point to critical technology literacy skills that many SMSD students would not otherwise achieve without digital learning.
We cannot change the past, however we can do things differently into the future. I support recommendations to address parent and patron concerns about screen time in the classroom, security filters, and continued problems accessing and logging on to the VPN. We need to reach consensus and clarity around our goals for the SMSD 1:1 technology initiative. I look forward to helping find solutions to address the concerns so consistently raised by parents.
I have been knocking on doors since June and connected with more than 4,000 people in the Northwest area. Hands down, this is the number one issue people have with our district – kids are spending too much time on devices in the classroom. I support digital technology on a limited basis. It should only be used to enhance learning and create learning which otherwise could not be possible. We need to make sure kids are developing critical thinking and interpersonal skills.
Recently, the district put guidelines in place regarding the 1:1 initiative. It also formed a Digital Task Force to study the issue and make recommendations. The district should have investigated this issue far more extensively before it was rolled out. However, it was done under a different Superintendent. Moving forward, I support stronger guidelines limiting technology use and a much more thorough analysis before massive rollouts, such as this one, occur to avoid future mistakes.
Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item two:
What’s your view of the board of education’s relationship to the superintendent and administration? How much accountability and oversight should the board be exercising over district staff?