Smithfield gets tech-ed out for new school year

Smithfield gets tech-ed out for new school year

Kristin Dohoney, a 1st-grade teacher at Old County Road Elementary School in Smithfield, adds new books to her class library, with the help of her daughter Lila, 8. Teachers at Old County Road School spent last week organizing their classrooms for the start of the new school year. (Valley Breeze & Observer photos by Melanie Thibeault)
Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education are on the list for 2014-2015

SMITHFIELD - With the start of a new school year come a few exciting changes for Smithfield teachers and students, including an updated wireless system which offers high-speed Internet access in every classroom and a plan to equip students with Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education.

Amidst this good news, teachers are waiting to hear the results of ongoing contract negotiations, which expire on Monday, Sept. 1.

Next Tuesday is the first day of school for 2,405 students. According to Supt. Robert O'Brien, enrollment in the school district has leveled off.

In addition to the new full-day kindergarten program, all kindergarten classrooms are equipped with new high-definition projectors.

Smithfield High School added an advanced placement biology class to the 2014-2015 school year. According to O'Brien, there was such an overwhelming response from students that the school added two separate sections.

Keeping with federal government regulations, lunch prices have increased by 10 cents this year, bringing elementary costs to $2.35 and middle and high school costs to $2.60 per lunch. Breakfast remains $1.

At Monday's School Committee meeting, Paul Barrette, director of technology, presented a strategic plan to set up students from 3rd to 12th grade with Google Apps for Education, scaffolding which apps would be available to which grades.

Students in 3rd, 4th and 5th grades would not be given email accounts, but would have access to Drive and calendars, which they could use for school assignments. Grades 6 through 8 would be given email accounts, but could only send emails within the district, as a security measure. This would allow teachers to email reminders to students, and students to email completed assignments to teachers. Students in grades 9 to 12 would have full access to email and all other apps.

Smithfield teachers have been using Google Apps for Education since December 2013.

The updated wireless system, which is funded by a grant from the Rhode Island Wireless Initiative, sets the stage for the school system's technology initiatives.

Barrette explained that Google Apps for Education are more accessible and permit easier collaboration and communication among teachers and students because data is saved in the Cloud, as opposed to on people's personal devices. While people may have different versions of Microsoft Office, Google Apps for Education can be accessed on any device that is connected to the Internet, which saves time and frustration, said Barrette.

For parents wondering about security, Garrette emphasized that Google Apps for Education is not the same as a personal Gmail account: accounts are private, Google does not record or store any personal information, and there are no ads to spam students and staff.

To put Google Apps to use, the administration plans to purchase 530 Chromebooks for students in grades 3, 6 and 9 and implement a three-year scaffolding plan. As students in those grades move up next year, they will take their devices with them, and the new incoming 3rd-, 6th- and 9th-graders will receive new Chromebooks. After three years, each student from grades 3 to 11 will be equipped with their own device. Plans for 12th-graders are still underway.

Having a personal device "encourages ownership and responsibility; promotes collaboration, communication and content-creation; and facilitates 'blended-learning' activities," Barrette said.

The cost of the Chromebooks for 530 students, 85 teachers, and charging and secure storage carts will total $236,490. Funding is already in place for $280,000, which will put the school system under budget and with extra money for spares or repairs.

An administrative leadership team, which includes Barrette, will communicate their plans to parents, create updated policies surrounding the accounts, and help teachers and staff find resources to make these new tools as effective as possible.

In the coming weeks, the team will go to bid on the Chromebooks. Barrette said that teachers are slated to receive them in September or October, and students should have theirs by the winter holidays.

Third-grade teacher Kerrie Murphy labels and organizes baskets for her students at Old County Road Elementary School.