By John Anderson
School Superintendent Maryellen Brunelle spoke before the Board of Selectmen on Monday, September 30, to explain the warrant articles related to the School District for Tuesday’s special town meeting. Selectmen voted to support all four articles. Article 6, in particular, made my ears perk up.
Article 6 reads: “To see if the Town Meeting will vote to appropriate a sum of $108,750.00 from General Fund Revenues for the acquisition of four (4) iPad carts (30 iPads per cart) and Bluetooth keyboards to align the District in preparation for the spring of 2014 Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) field test and the 2014-2015 implementation of the PARCC testing; or act on anything relative thereto.”
My initial reaction was a bit negative: Is this another unfunded mandate from the Commonwealth? Yes; If Auburn is spending $109,000 for a 4 classroom experiment, will Worcester be putting up nearly $843,000 to equip students for their 31 class testing? Probably not; Will the PARCC testing ever become reality? Unknown.
I’m not sure the controversial PARCC testing is a good reason to purchase iPads, but Brunelle feels otherwise. Although a paper and pencil version is available, this test was designed around a computer. She does not want Auburn students to be at a disadvantage because they lack the tools to take this test properly. In my opinion, Auburn students should also not be at a disadvantage in their general education.
At Monday’s School Committee meetings, our six school principals did a PowerPoint presentation: “Sharing Our Strengths”, an update for the committee on the Auburn Public Schools’ team approach to “Strengthening Connections through Rigor, Relevance and Relationships.” The presentation was an awakening for me. There are tremendous efforts being made to raise the educational quality in Auburn. Test scores are on the rise, the number of Advanced Placement participants continues to increase, and graduation GPAs are staggering.
Our Principals, Beth Chamberland from Bryn Mawr; Elizabeth Chase from Mary D. Stone; Deb Kozik from Pakachoag; Susan Lopez from Julia Bancroft; Joe Gagnon from Auburn Middle; and Casey Handfield from Auburn High, are the leaders of this initiative along with Dr. Kathleen Lauze, District Director of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum. Increased technology will only help their efforts and the efforts of our teachers. Their work is not limited to education. A safe and respectful environment is equally important without bullying or discrimination. Professional development and educator evaluations are also a primary focus.
When Principal Gagnon approached the podium with a tablet in his hand, I anxiously awaited his words about the one to one iPad initiative at AMS. With a glimmer in his eyes and enthusiasm in his voice, Gagnon summed it up, “This instrument that I have in my hand is the most powerful tool we can give our students.” Educators are having great success implementing the iPads in various subject areas.
The requested money represents about .217% of Auburn’s municipal budget and is money well spent. While people of my generation may struggle with some of this technology (my business partner Jeff Labonte fortunately does not), we should appreciate the value. To date, I do not own a tablet. I don’t own a smart phone…I call mine a dumb phone. I also went to college before PC’s were invented. On a positive note, I typed this article on a MAC and I’ve used them since 1986. The reason to make this purchase doesn’t matter, the results do.