Region 16 ready to roll out one-to-one program

REGION 16 — When the 2018-19 school year begins in Region 16, every student in grades six through 12 will have their own Chromebook to use in class — that’s the plan at least.

The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, has spent the past couple months putting the final pieces in place for the district’s one-to-one device initiative. The initiative will give middle and high school students Chromebooks as their primary educational tool.

“In today’s day and age, the connection between enhancement of technology and performance is pretty clear,” Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said.

School officials have said the region is behind the curve as many other school districts already provide individual devices for students. Region 16 will start to catch up in February.

In late February, the district will give all freshmen and sophomores at Woodland Regional High School new Chromebooks in the first-phase of a three-year plan approved by the board to establish the one-to-one device program.

Over the next two school years, 2017-18 and 2018-19, all incoming freshmen will receive a new Chromebook, and individual Chromebooks will be made available for middle school students through a mix of repurposing current district-owned devices and buying new ones, according to the plan.

Officials estimate the three-year plan will cost $377,119. This includes the cost of Chromebooks for students and staff, cases for the Chromebooks, licenses for monitoring software, and two additional staff members to support the program. The estimate doesn’t include the roughly $108,000 already spent on the Chromebooks that will be given out in February.

Starting in the 2019-20 school year, the program’s annual cost is projected to be $196,672, according to the plan. Yamin said this cost will be offset due to savings in other areas, like textbooks, though a figure for the savings isn’t known yet.

While the board is moving forward with a three-year plan, Yamin said that doesn’t mean it can’t be stretched out over a longer period of time.

“Our first goal is to get it into the high school, and we’re behind if we don’t,” he said.

The program will work differently for Woodland and Long River Middle School students.

Woodland students will get to keep their Chromebooks throughout high school and after they graduate. There is no cost to students, other than a $30 fee for an insurance policy, for a Chromebook. The insurance policy covers two claims per year for “accidental damage” and “unavoidable theft,” according to the plan. Students don’t have to take the policy. If they don’t, they will be responsible for the full cost of fixing or replacing their Chromebook.

The Chromebooks at Long River Middle School will be kept at the school. Students will get their own when they become freshman. Middle school students don’t need to buy insurance, since the Chromebooks won’t leave the school.

The plan excludes current juniors and seniors, as they will not get their own Chromebooks.

Yamin said a lot of thought was given to whether the current upperclassmen would get Chromebooks also. He said the decision came down to the best return on the district’s investment.

Yamin said officials felt it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible to buy new Chromebooks for upperclassmen, particularly seniors, who would only be using them for a relatively short time in the region.

“It’s unfortunate, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” Yamin said.

Software will help monitor program

Region 16’s one-to-one device initiative means more students will have more access to the internet than ever before in school. In anticipation of that reality, officials are turning to new monitoring software to help keep an eye on students.

The district, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, will give all freshmen and sophomores at Woodland Regional High School new Chromebooks in February. It’s the first step in a three-year plan to establish a one-to-one device program that will give all middle and high school students their own devices to use in class by the 2018-19 school year.

The district currently filters what websites can be visited through the school’s internet connection. Currently, websites, such as YouTube, are blocked, though officials feel such websites have some educational value. As the district moves forward with the one-to-one program, they plan to “open up” the internet to give students access to more websites, like YouTube.

“It’s more important to educate kids on how to appropriately use technology then try to block it,” Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said.

With that in mind, and that the fact that students will soon be using Chromebooks regularly in the classroom, the district plans to purchase licenses for GoGuardian, monitoring software designed to help schools manage Chromebooks.

The software allows teachers to view live what students are doing on the Chromebooks, check the history of where students have been online, close tabs that shouldn’t be open, lock Chromebooks and write messages to students, among a host of monitoring options.

Woodland teacher James Amato is one of several teachers currently testing out GoGuardian in class. Amato, who gave a presentation in November to the Board of Education on how GoGuardian works, said the software has opened up a discussion between him and his students.

Amato said the discussion hasn’t been antagonistic. In some cases, he said, students have asked him to view their computers to make sure they are doing work correctly.

“They know it’s a tool that we use in class,” he said.

The software does open up questions on privacy.

Matthew Brennan, the district’s director of technology, said board policy allows for the district to monitor activity on school-assigned devices and accounts. The monitoring of such accounts is report-based when students are out of school, he explained, meaning that certain administrators can view reports of what students did if something is flagged as inappropriate.

Brennan said the policy doesn’t allow for real-time monitoring out of school. It also states that at no time will officials take control of a computer out of school, including activating the camera or microphone.

“Policy wise, forget it, everyone should know that’s way out of bounds,” Brennan said.

The three-year plan to implement the program estimates the licenses to cost $27,396. The annual cost is projected to be $14,784 once the program is fully implemented.

The software drew praise from board members.

“I love it,” board member Priscilla Cretella said. “I love giving the teachers some control.”