March 25, 2014

Golden Valley, Livingston high schools going high tech

Computer-driven, textbook-free learning is coming to Golden Valley and Livingston high schools this fall.

Computer-driven, textbook-free learning is coming to Golden Valley and Livingston high schools this fall.

The Merced Union High School District will be spending about $8.7 million from different funding sources to see that by August, all students have their own computer for instruction – a Google Chromebook.

Leonard Kahn, assistant superintendent of business services, said the district received about $5.5 million in funding in January through the Federal Communications Commission. Called E-rate funds, the money pays for the hard-wiring and network access points necessary for widespread computer use at campuses.

Another $3.2 million in funds from Common Core state standards implementation, and its instructional materials and information services budgets, will be used to buy 7,800 Chromebooks, Kahn said.

Requests for proposals to supply the Chromebooks are being finalized and will be advertised this week. Bids are supposed to be returned at the beginning of April and trustees will award a contract at their April 9 meeting.

Kahn said administrators are confident they will be able to meet deadlines but delays in shipping the computer devices by manufacturers are possible. The district applied for E-rate funding three years ago and will receive 88 percent of the costs.

“Planning has been in the works for some time,” Kahn said. “The plan was always there, and we’re gearing up very quickly. The driver was the availability of E-rate funding. Our E-rate application was done in 2010, based on the number of free and reduced-price meals offered to students.”

Kahn said principals are charged with determining when their staffs are ready to adopt the 1:1 initiative – one computer per student.

Constantino Aguilar, Golden Valley High School principal, said 83 teachers and 1,885 ninth- through 12th-grade students will be affected. Teachers were surveyed and it was determined they would be ready to launch the new instructional system this fall.

“We’re confident we can make it a success,” Aguilar said. “We’re as ready as we’re going to be and the staff has a complete buy-in with the program. I have tremendous trust in my staff at Golden Valley. We have already started to plan for the switch and will continue to meet until we’ve exhausted all ideas and have come up with the best plan for our school.”

Aguilar said Golden Valley began planning last year for student use of technology. Eight teachers piloted a blended approach of textbooks and 1:1 Chromebooks this school year. The goal is to have a set of textbooks in classrooms, but students won’t be taking them home.

“However, all teachers have access to Chromebooks or computer labs and use them as they deem necessary to enhance student learning,” Aguilar said. “Ultimately, our goal and timeline is to provide a Chromebook for every student for the following 2014-2015 school year.”

To get ready, Aguilar said teachers visited Merced’s El Capitan High as well as New Technology and American Canyon high schools, both part of the Napa Unified School District.

At Livingston High, Principal Ralph Calderon said 50 teachers and 1,100 students will be affected by the 1:1 transition. He said five teachers have been piloting the computer instruction this year, and they will be ready to launch the program this fall.

Calderon said he has been meeting individually with teachers and going over the preparation that needs to be done to be ready for computer instruction this fall. The expectation remains that teachers will make the most significant impact in instruction through the same lesson plans they have been developing, he added.

When the E-rate application was submitted three years ago, national technology vendor CDW was retained to provide hard-wiring and network access at district schools.

The district’s information technology department manager, Anthony Thomas, has been working with CDW to get the schedule of construction firmed up. Jorge Arteaga, the district’s information services director, has been working on the acquisition of Chromebooks.

Kahn said wireless-access points will be installed starting in April at all campuses and the district office by September.

When brand-new El Capitan High School opened last fall, it started the district’s 1:1 computer initiative. After Golden Valley and Livingston, the sequence of other schools going the computer route continues with Buhach Colony, Merced, Atwater and East Campus Educational Center, with the last installation at the district office in the Castle Commerce Center.

Aguilar said Chromebooks are a tool to enhance student learning and have great potential to provide relevance to student learning.

“Technology is a tool, and as educators it is still our responsibility to find the best modalities (learning styles) for which our students learn,” Aguilar said. “Reading, writing, speaking and listening skills are still at the forefront of what Common Core State Standards are requiring of students. Technology is a tool to help us get there.”

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