Technology to be discussed at next COMPASS meeting

Facilitating Team discusses more ways to improve public meetings

By BURKE WASSON

When the Mehlville School District resumes its community-engagement sessions in September, district residents likely will have more of a hands-on experience.

The Facilitating Team for the district’s public-engagement push, COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — last week discussed the possibility of setting up demonstrations of various technological programs that the district uses in the classroom.

The next community-engagement session, which is reserved for the topic of technology, is scheduled for Sept. 10 at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road.

While the district’s current technology plan has been recognized by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as a “model plan,” funding for that plan has not been fully carried out by the district.

In a recent study of technology in area schools, the Mehlville School District ranked last in student-to-computer ratios.

To showcase what students already use in the classroom along with possible solutions for technological upgrades, Board of Education member Larry Felton suggested June 18 to the Facilitating Team that the district invite technology vendors already used by the district to display that software. He added that could be done at 6 p.m., an hour before the community-engagement session begins, on Sept. 10.

“I wonder if you might try to brighten things up for the fall if you get all the technology vendors that work for Mehlville to come in maybe at 6 o’clock to set up their wares,” Felton said. “Let people come in and kind of get hands on because I bet if I would ask everybody in this room to write down the definition of technology, they wouldn’t be close. It’s such an amorphous subject. If facilities are concrete, talking about technology is like nailing Jell-O to a tree.

“It means everything to everybody else. Whether it’s server technology or whether it’s intelligent blackboards or whether it’s collaborative software, you can paint just about any picture you want to. And people can get this stuff hands on and you get away from this ethereal: ‘What is it?’ to ‘Well, it’s a blackboard where my kids might be able to get something presented better.’ Or it might be some collaborative software so they can work as a team.”

Facilitating Team member Paul Goldak said as long as technology vendors display their programs to residents instead of at-tempting to sell them, he believes it would be a plus.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea as long as we minimize as much as possible the selling aspect of those vendors,” Goldak said. “Because they’re going to try to sell us everything possible. And what I’d like to see is a mix of: ‘This is what we’ve got. Here’s a system we already use today … But here are the extensions, here’s where you can take this in the future if you wanted to …'”

“The key thing is it has to be in the context of what is available,” Felton said. “I don’t think you’re going to go out and drag vendors in that you don’t deal with or CSD (Cooperating School Districts) doesn’t deal with. The point is well taken. If they get the foot in the door, they’re going to sell you a vacuum cleaner whether you want it or not.”

Two fellow school board members — Secretary Micheal Ocello and President Tom Diehl, both of whom serve on the Facilitating Team — supported Felton’s idea.

Diehl also suggested having teachers and possibly students attend the display to show residents how technology already is helping them in the classroom.

Ocello agreed and added that seeing what students already use now would put up-dates that are necessary for further learning into the proper context.

“I like Larry’s idea about this,” Ocello said. “I think it would make it fun, a little more interesting and let people see some bells and whistles … Let’s have the vendors come in and say: ‘This is what we have, this is where we could go.’ I think it would be great if teachers say: ‘This is where we’re at. Here’s what we could do that would make a world-class impact on our education.'”

Director of Information Technology Services Steven Lee added that during the Sept. 10 community-engagement session, he would like to remind residents that the district’s technology plan has been recognized by the state, but still not fully implemented.

Besides describing that plan, Lee said he also would like to show residents how much more learning can be accomplished through the use of technology.

“One of the things I would want to highlight is our technology plan, which the state has already said we have a plan worthy of display that they’re offering as a model to other school districts,” Lee said. “… But taking technology beyond let’s teach them how to use (Microsoft) Word, let’s teach them how to research on the Internet, but making real-life solutions out of real-life problems.”

But besides the technology presentation scheduled during the community-engagement session, Felton said allowing residents to come early and view the software already used by the district will hone a broad concept like technology into more of a concrete practice.

“My idea is basically, as we used to say in the trade-show business, I’m going there for the coffee cups, the T-shirts and the trinkets,” Felton said. “Give them something to put their hands on and maybe you give them a magnet with the rest of your (community-engagement session) dates on it. I mean, I’m kind of trivializing this. But it’s the fall, it’s something new. And I think you really need to break technology down to workable pieces.”

Besides the display on technology, Facilitating Team members discussed more ways to improve the community-engagement sessions.

One possible solution was to limit the time of formal presentations at the beginning of those sessions to allow for more group discussion at tables and more citizen input.

“I’d like to suggest that we limit the formal presentations to 15 minutes regardless of the topic,” Goldak said. “Pack into 15 minutes the information that we want people to discuss and then allow them the time, at least an hour, to talk about and to raise the issues and whatever they need to do and then half an hour to talk afterwards in an open forum, if you will …

“There’s too much lecturing and presenting and formalizing and not enough time, I think, for people to talk about the topic in their own words. And if they’ve got questions, if something wasn’t presented in detail, they’ll ask that question and then we’ll answer it … But to start late and do the introductions and not start the presentations until 7:30 and then not start the small groups until 8 o’clock, I think we’re wasting the time of the mass of people that are there to talk about things that we’re talking about and presenting.”