Piñon Elementary School third-grade teacher Alysia Boylan has to show visitors exactly where she keeps her class dictionary.
It’s on the floor, clouded in a shadow under a shelf along the wall, and pretty hard to spot unless someone points it out. The students can use computers now to look up the meaning of words, she said.
She still has a cart of age-appropriate books, including some Dr. Seuss favorites, for the kids to read. But, she said, “They are going away. Technology is where we’re headed.”
Then, looking around her classroom as students worked on projects on both Chromebooks and an interactive SmartBoard, Boylan amended that statement: “We’re here.”
Boylan made her comments during a Digital Learning Night held at the south-side school last week. The event, which drew about 200 people, was set up to teach voters about the need for technology in the classroom. District leaders have said that the kids who use tech in the classroom are the best ones to teach the public about its impact on their learning. And the students did just that, inviting people into their classrooms to see how they have used computers to do schoolwork.
The timing of the Digital Learning Night was intentional. Santa Fe Public Schools is asking voters to help the district move forward with its five-year technology plan by approving a three-year renewal of a 1.5-mill levy on the school election ballot Feb. 2. This is the first year the technology bond issue, which has drawn some public criticism, has been put in voters’ hands. For the past two years, the Santa Fe school board has voted to levy the 1.5-mill property tax to support the five-year, $55 million initiative. The tax raises about $11 million per year.
Superintendent Joel Boyd and other district leaders say the Santa Fe school district lags behind many in the nation when it comes to using technology in schools. Knowing that a lot is at stake, the school officials have been reaching out to parents and other voters. Boyd pleaded his case during the Piñon Elementary event, telling the assembly that technology is not just the wave of the future, but essential for students today. He also has gone door to door in residential neighborhoods to raise awareness of the upcoming election.
Despite the school district’s efforts both years to publicize the bond and its financial impact on property owners, many county residents claimed they knew nothing about the technology bond until they discovered the increase on their property-tax bills. Some said they would have voted against the tax if it had been on a ballot.
Boyd says taxes will not go up if voters approve the plan because the property-tax increase is already in place. Santa Fe County Assessor Gus Martinez confirmed that current tax levels will be maintained for the next three years if the bond is renewed. But if the bond measure fails, he said, “The tax rate would go down, back to pre-bond rates.”
Almost half of the district’s 30-some schools have some or all of the tech plan’s infrastructure and age-appropriate computer devices in place. If voters turn down the measure, the rest of the schools will be left without the same level of access to technology.
Voter rejection of the plan might also be seen as a reaction to Boyd’s leadership in a district struggling to meet the goals of a 2012 five-year strategic plan to increase student academic achievement, boost school ratings in the state’s A-F grading system and improve the high school graduation rate by the summer of 2017.
Boyd is aware of the potential consequences. He told the crowd at Piñon that students need to be technologically prepared to attend colleges, where proficiency on laptop computers will be required in nearly all careers.
Boyd visited with voters in the Casa Solana neighborhood last week as well, knocking on doors and stopping by the nearby Mary Esther Gonzales Senior Center on Alto Street to press the flesh and answer questions about the tech bond. “It’s a challenge,” Boyd said. “I’m finding that a lot of people do not know [about the election]. I think people are hearing ‘election’ but are not aware it is Feb. 2.”
For the most part, Boyd met with support or polite indifference. No one gave him grief about the tax and some — including former educator Diane Garber, who tried to bring technology into her classroom back in 1985 with an IBM “Writing to Read” program — said they back the district’s tech plan.
Garber said her kindergartners had to show principals and teachers how to implement the IBM program. “SmartBoards will change instruction,” she said. “It’s immediate teaching.”
Boylan agrees. In two years, the 10-year veteran teacher has seen what computers in her classroom have brought to her students. They can take interactive online field trips to the San Diego Zoo and then research and write up a paper about one of the animals for a science project. They can go into outer space or the African jungle — “places they would never go at this point in their lives.” They can engage in a Digital Citizenship program in which they learn how to properly navigate the sometimes scary world of the Internet.
Third-grader Maricia Gallegos was doing just that during the digital learning presentation at Piñon under the watchful eye of her mother. Gallegos said students “can learn more stuff on the computer and it’s faster than the dictionary.” She wants to be a scientist or a teacher when she grows up and expects to use the computer all the time in those fields.
Nearby, a trio of other third-graders worked out a math problem on the SmartBoard. When the board suddenly froze up, they ran for help. The kids and Boylan said unfortunately that happens a lot with the SmartBoard, but their situation may be an anomaly at Piñon, where other teachers, students and principal Janis Devoti said most everything is working most of the time.
“Two years ago, Piñon was a school of chalkboards,” Devoti said.
The school board initially approved the Education Technology Note in February 2014, imposing a 1.5-mill property tax for the technology improvements — a rate that raised taxes on a $300,000 home, which has a taxable value of $100,000, by $150 a year. The measure was renewed in 2015.
During the tech plan’s first two years, eight schools have seen full implementation: El Camino Real Academy, Nina Otero Community School, Atalaya Elementary School, Piñon Elementary, Kearny Elementary, Ramirez Thomas Elementary and Ortiz Middle School. The rest, including Santa Fe High School, El Dorado Community School and Sweeney Elementary School, are still waiting for some or all of their tech improvements.
A 2013 National Center for Education Statistics study using 2009 data reported that 97 percent of American teachers had one or more computers located in the classroom every day and Internet access was available for 93 percent of the computers. The ratio of students to computers in the classroom was just over 5 to 1.
A 2015 study from the global Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reports that over 72 percent of students in the organization’s 34 member countries have access to computers in school.
But in comparing academic achievement records of students in those computerized schools, the report found that educational results were “mixed at best,” with some students performing “somewhat better” and others not improving at all.
Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.