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Sunday, February 24, 2013

School systems moving steadily toward BYOD policy

As published in the Record Journal on Sunday February 24, 2013

By Jesse Buchanan
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2230

Area school districts are on the verge of allowing students to bring and use electronic devices such as smart phones, tablets and laptops in the classroom — and one district is already there.

“Bring your own devices,” as the effort is called by educators, hasn’t yet been implemented in Meriden, Wallingford or Southington, but Cheshire recently made the change in its middle and high schools. And all four school systems say there’s value in allowing students to bring familiar devices for research or note-taking.

The Meriden Board of Education expects to have a policy on student devices up for a vote by late winter, according to Assistant School Superintendent Michael Grove.

“Schools are reviewing the policy and making some changes,” he said.

Students could be bringing their electronics into the classroom by as early as spring. The high and middle schools have fairly reliable wireless Internet access, Grove said, as do some of the elementary schools.

Though details of the policy are still being formulated, Grove said teachers will have control over when and how devices are used in the classroom.

A pilot program in some Platt High School classrooms that allowed students to bring devices went well, according to Grove, and encouraged the board to consider a district wide policy.

After “very successful” pilot programs, Cheshire schools allowed middle and high school students to bring their own devices last month, said Assistant Superintendent Scott Detrick.

Wireless Internet was installed at both schools, allowing students with smart phones and tablets to do Web research. Installing wireless at the elementary schools is the next step to allow pupils in the lower grades to bring their own devices.

Students can also borrow Internet- connected devices from the schools’ libraries.

“If a particular lesson demands the use of a device, then they have access to that,” Detrick said.

The Cheshire Board of Education created policies for “bring your own devices” two years ago.

In December, the Wallingford Board of Education approved $284,000 to upgrade wireless Internet access at the town’s high and middle schools. The upgrades are needed to implement a BYOD program there, said School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo.

The district has policies in place but has put the effort on hold. Menzo said companies approached the district about devices in the classroom but wouldn’t say what the proposals were or which companies offered them.

A BYOD policy needs to improve education, Menzo said, and not just allow students to check their email in the halls.

“We want to make sure we take purposeful next steps,” he said.

Wallingford schools conducted a survey last year of parents and teachers on electronics in the classroom. Of 770 parents surveyed, 53 percent supported the idea of letting children bring electronic devices to school, while 32 percent said they wanted more information.

The survey covered 2,300 students, and almost 90 percent said they owned a device that can browse the Internet. Eighty-eight percent of students in middle or high school said they had a cell phone, with 58 percent of those students owning a smart phone. In the sixth grade, 61 percent of students had a smart phone, compared with 40 percent in 11th grade.

Using a variety of student owned electronic devices, Southington schools conducted a pilot program last year at the high, middle and elementary school levels. Technology Director Karen Veilleux said the pilot was successful at all levels and a report will be sent to the Board of Education next month.

Veilleux expects the board to pass policies on allowing devices district wide, although there are challenges, such as wireless Internet availability and teaching students with devices ranging from eight-year old laptops to the latest iPad.

Ruling on snow day irks workers - Wallingford town staff had to take vacation day

As published in the Record Journal on Sunday February 24, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD - Town employees told to take vacation time for the day Town Hall was closed during the blizzard are wondering why school system employees weren’t treated the same.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. issued a memo Feb. 14 telling employees that if they did not go to work on Feb. 11, when Town Hall was shut because of the storm, they must take a vacation day to get paid. Interviews with several town employees showed that while they’re upset with the mayor and his decision, they’re also angry that employees of the school system will get paid for the three days they were told not to show up to work.

The issue is “something that came up in conversations,” said Chuck Ballard, president of Local 1183 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing public works, clerical and sewer workers. “If the mayor is going to come up with a memo, it should be issued across the board.”

School Superintendent Sal Menzo acknowledged earlier this week that the discrepancies between town and school district employees are “difficult for people to understand.”

“We work under separate labor contracts,” Menzo said.

Much of Menzo’s decision making in regard to school cancellation and employee compensation are based on past practice, which “often times dictates how myself and the administration are required to handle a circumstance,” he said. Dickinson said state law gives control to the Board of Education.

“We do not have any authority over the Board of Education,” Dickinson said.

Last week, Dickinson said, “I have a hard time feeling the town should be paying people when they didn’t work.”

Had Town Hall been open on Feb. 11, employees still would not have been able to work, because the parking lot and roads still hadn’t been plowed completely.

“I don’t want to feel like we are giving money away when it isn’t warranted,” he said.

Dickinson said the school district often closes several times a year because of inclement weather, so Menzo already has a procedure in place. Usually, Town Hall does not close, Dickinson said, so there isn’t any regular procedure.

Dickinson said he does understand why town employees are upset that school employees aren’t being treated the same. The money that funds the general government and the school district come from the same local taxes, creating a situation in which there are two separate entities being held accountable for taxpayers’ money.

“It creates jealousies,” Dickinson said. “There would have to be a change in state law to put everyone on the same footing.”

Personnel Director Terence Sullivan said “it would be nice to follow all the same rules” in order to avoid jealousies between town and school employees.

The solution, said Dickinson, would be to make school districts responsible for raising their own money through taxes. In the past, local legislators have proposed creating a separate Board of Education tax in the state, Dickinson said. He said the practice is employed successfully in Pennsylvania and New York.

With two taxes, “if you’re not satisfied with something on either side, you know who to call,” Dickinson said.

While Dickinson believes creating a separate Board of Education tax would relieve what he calls an “awkward” situation, he does not see a change of state policy on the horizon.