Special Millburn BOE Meeting Focuses On Technology
Friday, June 29, 2012 • 3:34am
MILLBURN, NJ - What a difference a few days make. After a contentious meeting Monday night in which members of the public accused the board of being "cliquey" and "disfunctional," the Millburn Board of Education engaged in quiet and effective conversation at a special meeting Thursday, June 28.
Without cameras videotaping the proceedings, and with a tiny audience of three - one resident who stayed only through the first public comments section and two reporters - the six of nine board members present worked with Superintendent James Crisfield and Business Administrator Steve DiGeronimo and approved all items on the agenda.
Earlier in June, initial bids for a number of projects were too high, and the board rejected them. A special meeting was called so that the board could vote on new proposals.
The issue of technology was raised first by former board member Josh Scharf, in response to an agenda item recommending the approval of a purchase agreement for 1370 new computers from Apple Financial Inc.
Citing a New York Times article from January 3, 2012, Scharf questioned the value of technology in the classroom. The piece, by former public high school teacher Paul Thomas who is currently an associate professor of education at Furman University, asserts that “schools should not be blinded by the latest trends and the inflated costs of new technologies. Rather, we should empower teachers and divert resources into their classrooms in more meaningful ways.”
Scharf asked the board to have the administration define a clear and measurable intent regarding technology use. He referred to another former board member, Scott Kamber, who had always voted “no” on tech spending saying “There is no plan.” Scharf asked Crisfield and the board, “What are we trying to achieve here?”
Later in the meeting, Crisfield took a moment to respond to Scharf and those who frequently ask, “What’s the vision? What’s the plan?”
He said that “what we have to do as educators is to meet students where their brains are in 2012.” His goal is to “engage them where they like to be engaged, to turn them on to learning.”
Acknowledging that teachers are the most important “ingredient,” Crisfield sees these computers as a tool to help teachers keep kids involved and excited about the work.
Prompted by questions from board members Jean Pasternak and Mark Zucker, Crisfield described the process by which he and DiGeronimo made the decision to lease the 950 MacBook Pros, 300 iMacs and 120 iPads.
When the two administrators talked with Apple in the second week in June, they originally planned to purchase new devices. The Apple representative said that other districts were choosing to lease, and Crisfield and DiGeronimo said they were delighted to learn about this cost-saving option.
According to Crisfield, these savings are enabling the district to go from 2,000 computers to 2,500, amounting to one computer for every two students. Apple has made the commitment to replace each computer when it is five years old. Crisfield explained that he was eager to replace older machines because they cost more due to needed repairs and updates.
Board Vice President Eric Siegal added that in addition to leasing the new computers, Apple is setting up and imaging them so “they’re ready to fly.” Maintenance will be done by district tech staff.
The total of the five-year lease–purchase agreement is $1,642, 542. This amounts to approximately $350,000 a year.
Each year, a group of old computers will be retired and replaced by the newest models. Board President Michael Birnberg described this as “a great deal.”
Crisfield explained that one important reason this was done was to have “a steady, predictable amount in the budget.”
Pasternak recalled a tech fair sponsored by MSPEC several years ago where there was a demonstration of district technology. When teachers were asked which was the most useful, they said they were most happy with the doc (document) cameras, the least expensive of all the items presented.
Crisfield agreed that teachers do like the doc cameras because they are easy to use.
But, he emphasized, it is the students who actually get to use the Mac devices that are being purchased. Currently, teachers are being trained how to incorporate Web 2.0 into their lessons. Crisfield described how these computers allow “more scenarios for carts,” meaning that teachers can craft their lessons so that every student in the room can have a computer on a particular day.
The resolution passed unanimously.
Other items that were approved include a three-year contract with Rosetta Stone for language-learning software for elementary schools. The total cost for the period August 1, 2012 to July 31, 2015 is $140,775, payable in three annual installments of $46,925.
For the roof replacement and repairs at the Middle School, a contract was approved with Ed Data for “purposes of completing the project utilizing the lowest responsible bidder, MK Lyons, LLC.” The total contract amount is $258,764.
Regarding bleacher repair at Millburn High School, the board awarded the project to Shauger Property Services. The total cost will be $368,815.