BUDGETS & BRAINS / KEEPING UP WITH STATE TECHNOLOGY STANDARDS TAKES A TOLL

Author: DIANE D'AMICO Education Writer, (609) 272-7241
Date: May 23, 2005
Publication: Press of Atlantic City, The (NJ)
Page: A4

Imagine a world without technology.

No cars. No computers. No telephones. No televisions. No X-ray machines or CT scans. No microwave ovens.

Technology is so integrated into modern life that we barely notice it.

But like every tool, there is a cost ­- both in money and time. Technology must be maintained and upgraded. People using it must be trained.

For schools, the challenge has become trying to keep up with new state technology standards, as state aid is frozen, federal aid is in jeopardy and property-tax payers feel overburdened.

Last month, the state Department of Education hosted a Technology fair to highlight how schools statewide are using technology. Brigantine and Stafford Township were among the featured districts.

Hundreds of educators came to The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey this month to share technology innovations at the annual “From My Classroom To Yours” program sponsored by the Southern Regional Institute and Educational Technology Training Center at Stockton.

“There are people who don’t believe that technology makes a difference,” said New Jersey Department of Education Technology Specialist Linda Carmona-Bell, who hosted a workshop on state initiatives. “But it has to be used effectively.”

In past years, the state designated a portion of state aid specifically for technology. But new consolidated aid gives districts more flexibility in how they use some state money, and buying new computers has to compete with other needs.

The new state education standards require all students to become proficient at such tasks as creating a database, a spreadsheet and various documents on a computer.

Local school officials say the key is integrating the technology into the classroom and making it part of the lesson rather than a lesson in itself.

Linwood has been a leader in technology integration and was recently honored by the New Jersey School Board Association. Belhaven Middle School principal Frank Rudnesky said the key has been teacher training.

“We’re in our fourth year now, and we’ve seen an 80 percent increase in technology use by the teachers,” Rudnesky said.

But the district faces the same money problems as everyone else. Grant funds were used to buy electronic, interactive white boards at the school, but much of the technology money comes from outside fund-raising.

“We have a very active Education Foundation, and they raised the money for our first computer lab years ago,” Rudnesky said. The foundation recently held a gala that raised about $30,000 for technology.

“We constantly try to get the parents in to show them what we’re doing,” he said. “That helps generate support when we’re trying to raise money.”

Rudnesky and Carmona-Bell admit it can be hard to prove that the technology results in better grades or test scores.

Linwood students perform very well on state tests, but many factors can contribute to that. Rudnesky said he believes technology is important, but primarily as a tool.

“We always let the curriculum drive what we do,” he said, admitting it takes a lot of research to make sure what is being bought won’t be obsolete in a year.

Patricia Merlino, technology coordinator in Port Republic, opted for Macs for the tiny district’s new upgraded computer lab because the company’s music, graphics, video and other software programs could be integrated through the school’s curriculum.

“The science class did a TV broadcast based on tsunamis,” Merlino said. The district bought the computers in a lease-purchase agreement, but the tight school budget has affected Merlino’s job.

“I’m going to part-time next year,” she said.

To e-mail Diane D'Amico at The Press:

DDamico@pressofac.com