IT Director recommends East Providence Schools implement siginficant upgrades

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EAST PROVIDENCE — The East Providence School Department needs to spend $1.5 million over the next few years to boost its still lagging technological support for students and teachers, so said City Information Technology Director Kelly Ahrens during her departmental update at the Tuesday, Aug. 13, School Committee in the City Hall Chamber.

Ms. Ahrens led the Committee through a lengthy list of needs the school system should fulfill leading up to the implementation of PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) testing as well as the need to meet standards for accreditation from NESAC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges).

Since 2009, the School Department has spent some $650,000 on the purchase of technological equipment. Prior, there was little to no money put towards technology, Ms. Ahrens said.

“We’ve come a long way in the last few years, but we still have a ways to go,” she said.

Five computer labs at East Providence High School and four each at both Martin and Riverside Middle Schools have been completely updated with the purchase of new computers, wiring and tables. Some of those elements, however, haven’t been installed due to lack of manpower, most notably new desks still in boxes at RMS.

Still, Ms. Ahrens recommended an even greater emphasis be placed on updating all schools in a timely manner, including each of the elementary buildings in the city. Currently, the School Department has a line item of $225,000 for technology in its yearly budget. Ms. Ahrens suggested that be raised to just over $400,000.

“Not only would it satisfy the requirements of the PARCC testing, but we also need to refresh the existing inventory we started to build in 2009,” Ms. Ahrens said.

As for NEASC, which is considering dropping East Providence High School’s accreditation from Warning to Probation status, the increased purchase would show the School Department has a long-term strategy to improve its technological capabilities while doing so without “dramatically” affecting its budget, Ms. Ahrens added.

Over the next two to three years, the IT director would like to build 20 new labs and buy 650 new computers. The purchase would be done on revolving three-to-five-year contracts, allowing for limited budgetary impact while updating hardware and software on a regular basis. The computers would see significant use with schools no longer doing paper testing, she said.

Some of those proposed labs would likely be what Ms. Ahrens called “rolling laptop labs,” which would be used in several of the elementary schools where space is limited. The laptop labs could be moved between classrooms where needed.

Though not currently in the proposal, Ms. Ahrens recommended the School Department at some point soon purchase about 300 computers for use at the high school and middle schools by teachers, who more and more both instruct and interact with their students via technological means.

“They absolutely deserve and need them. They use them every day,” Ms. Ahrens said.

The goal is to increase the instructional and learning capacities of teachers and students, especially those in the latter category with learning disabilities, etc., who Ms. Ahrens said could see their academic achievement benefit the most.

“I’m going to keep pushing you on this,” Ms. Ahrens said of the proposal to provide teachers with computers and some students with touchpad devices.

“Technology has come so far in helping students and teachers,” she added. “They’re tools we need to provide to them.”

All told, the current increase requested in the budget would be $185,000 per year over the $225,000 line item.

“It’s not nothing,” Ms. Ahrens said of the added expenditure, “but it certainly is a necessity.”

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