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A Tech Boost for City Schools if Legislature, Voters Agree

Students in Syracuse city schools would receive iPads, SmartBoards and access to high-speed Internet under a new bond measure proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

In his 2014 budget, Cuomo has proposed a referendum on an initiative called Smart Schools. The referendum would ask voters to approve a $2-billion bond to bring more technology to school districts. Of that, $27-million would go to Syracuse city schools – far more than any district in the surrounding area. The measure has to be approved by the New York State Legislature.

“I definitely see it as important and as something that needs to be occurring,” said Alan Foley, a Syracuse University professor who specializes in the use of technology in education.

Foley and other local advocates of using technology in classrooms said it would allow students to better engage with the learning material, provide access to a wider range of information, and prepare students for college or a career right after high school.

In his January State of the State address, Cuomo acknowledged the vast differences in access to technology throughout New York state schools – calling the disparity “wrong.” The Syracuse City School District did not respond to requests for interviews on the proposal.

Bringing technology to schools has been a statewide trend for the last several years. Bishop Grimes High School, a local private school that would not benefit under Cuomo’s initiative, is one example of a school that is incorporating technology into classroom learning. By mid-February, every seventh grader at Bishop Grimes will have an iPad to use during class.  The move came after years of internal discussion about the benefits of advanced technology, Principal Marc Crouse said. The new iPads would be used in addition to SmartBoards and high-speed Internet to allow students to read textbooks online, watch videos and plan projects.

“One thing we are always trying to do on an intellectual level is engage students. We want students to take a more active role in their own learning,” Crouse said.

The governor’s budget proposal should also include funding to maintain technology under the Smart Schools initiative, said Foley, the SU professor specializing in technology in education.  An adequate tech-support staff is necessary to help the technology run smoothly and be effective during classes, he said.

“If you’re teaching and you’ve got an interactive SmartBoard that stops working, is there somebody to come fix that?” Foley said. “That’s important and often doesn’t get calculated into the cost of technology.”

Local state legislators are reviewing the proposed budget legislation that would include the approval of the $27-million bond referendum. If the legislature approves the referendum, voters would cast ballots on it in November.

State Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. In general, he supports technology in schools, said a spokesperson. But he has not yet taken a position on this specific proposal.

April 1 is the state’s deadline for enacting a budget. But the government often fails to meet that deadline.

(Anna Giles is a junior with dual majors in broadcast and digital  journalism and international relations).


Posted in Spring 2014 | Comments Off on A Tech Boost for City Schools if Legislature, Voters Agree