Gabe Jackson – IT or Information Technology seems to be the only department that some Nebraska educational districts are protecting from upcoming budget cuts. The learning of information is what any school experience boils down to.
What’s key to many educational leaders in Nebraska’s rural area schools is making sure information gets to their students just as fast, if not faster than their larger counterparts. The integration of the World Wide Web with learning and teaching software has certainly brought information to our fingertips like no way before. Nevertheless, schools are making no cuts to ensure that information gets to their students faster.
Today, the learning experience of the average student is drastically different than that of a student ten years ago. Middle schools and especially high schools are looking to tablet computers like Apple’s Ipad to replace the once popular laptop computer. When it comes to communication, 1,000 mbps (mega bit per second) fiber optic networks are being proposed to schools to replace their once cutting edge twenty to fifty mbps high speed cable systems. As a result, schools and their budgets have adapted to stay apace with tech innovation. In America’s heartland, the state of Nebraska is keeping abreast despite the struggles of limited local tax resources and the condition of the American economy. Interviewed high school principals and superintendants of Nebraska’s ESU 15 district understood that if students are not provided with an educational experience consisting of readily available tech tools and advanced class offerings, they simply are not preparing students for college or the job market.
With statewide budget cuts and funding losses, public schools are turning to federal grant programs to soften the blow. The one department that Nebraska schools are making sure stays on track is their IT departments. All the schools in ESU 15 share a similar point of view on the importance of the role of IT in the classroom. Focusing on the ESU 15 school district, which is composed of ten high schools, its superintendants and principals all agree keeping tech safe is keeping students first.
ESU 15’s supervisor, Paul Calvert states “Our ESU unit that assists each individual school in the district is now providing over one-hundred online classes to meet students needs.” He agrees trends must be continued that better equip students to access information. “Many of our schools are looking at integrating Apple’s Ipad and similar devices to put tools in the hands of students that better equip them to learn about art, science, math and everything in between.”
Through Nebraska’s entire ESU 15, not one school planned to cut their IT budgets. In fact, most plan to expand their budgets to ensure their students have access to information as quickly and safely as possible. It seems that these leaders are unwilling to budge and for good reason. No one can count the cost of a short-changed student, but the price will have to be paid eventually. With this social salient fact in mind, Matt Fisher of Chase County Schools adds, “Despite state funding cuts, we don’t see ourselves going anywhere near our IT departments. Once you start giving your students a tool like this, you don’t want to take it away.” Chase County is also one out of three schools in the district that boasts a 1-1 program, meaning they have one laptop for every student that attends school.
The schools in the ESU unit have a wide variance in budgets. Ranging from the small ($2,600) to the large ($200,000+). Medicine Valley Principal Norm LiaKos who works with a limited but effective tech budget and is always looking for ways to provide his students and staff with better access to information. He states, “Technology is no longer the future, it’s the present. Without the proper tools in place, our students will fall behind. We do the best we can with what we have but we aren’t settling. We always strive to do better and are looking to grants and outside funding to offer our students more.”
Jeff Koehler of Maywood schools stands firm on what technology does for students. In Koehler’s eyes, technology provides the tool that unlocks the secret of true education by teaching students to discover what they want to know. “We teach students, you won’t know everything, but you have to know where to find it. Every student is different and making sure that a diverse and flexible resource like the internet is available on 1 to 1 structure allows students to inform themselves on a much broader scale. Our students love the one to one system. Always having access to class materials no matter where they are gives them ability to always be prepared for upcoming tests.” According to Koehler, Maywood schools made their budget cuts six years ago to make room for more learning resources. Maywood is also a “1 to 1” school providing every single student access to technology resources.
There are the positive points of an economic recession. When programs and budgets are stripped down to the bare essentials, institutions must check themselves on what they really need. The educational system in Nebraska is showing that the educational experience means nothing without productive and informed students.
This article was originally posted at http://www.educationnews.org/ed_reports/153699.html