By Chad Koenen
Technology has never been more important for school districts than during the days of COVID-19. With students learning remotely and staff members utilizing new technology to reach their students, a renewed emphasis has been put on making sure students have the devices and information needed to be successful in the classroom—wherever that classroom may be located.
During its regularly scheduled meeting last Monday night, the New York Mills School Board heard a technology update from Nick DeVillers and Jason Hoaby who said the district has added 300 new devices for students alone, and 60 staff laptops to help the educational experience this year.
“It’s bringing us into the age,” said DeVillers.
The additional devices has also helped take some of the load off of teachers as paraprofessionals can assist with some break out Google Meets to assist students.
“It’s really helped versatility. It’s also helped our paras in getting their own device,” he said. “(They can) run their own Google Meet to help take the load off the teachers.”
The extra technology has also given the school district some flexibility when it comes to repairs. DeVillers said NY Mills has about 20 additional Chromebooks “so students can come into the office and swap them out,” if they are damaged. The district technology department can then repair the Chromebooks when they have time so students do not go without the technology they need to learn from afar.
That doesn’t mean everything has went as smoothly as hoped this fall. DeVillers said there were issues with the phone in conferences recently, as NY Mills School had only 20 active lines and 50 teachers trying to use the phone lines at the same time. The technology department is now working on a plan to use a different program for things like conferences in the future.
The internet has also lagged at times, but DeVillers and the technology staff members are working on solutions to increase the internet speed. The hope is to have the changes completed by the time students return to the classroom on Jan. 4, 2021. Part of the issue stemmed from going from 200 devices hooked up to the internet at any one time to more than 800 due to distance learning.
DeVillers said he was thankful for all of the support he received from assistant Jason Hoaby and librarians Lori Newman and Nancy Schik throughout the process. He said if it wasn’t for their help the advances the school district has made in technology would not have been possible.
Worlds Best Workforce
In addition to an update on the technology being utilized at the school, NY Mills School Board heard the annual Worlds Best Workforce presentation from Superintendent Blaine Novak. The report was largely incomplete as testing utilized in the spring was not completed due to COVID-19.
For example, the goals of having 95 percent of students in the pre-kindergarten program ready for kindergarten, having 65 percent of kindergarten through third grade students reading at grade level, having 65 percent of all third graders scoring proficient or exceeds proficient in the MCA III reading, closing the achievement gap between special education and non special education, as well as closing the achievement gap between free and reduced students and non free and reduced students were incomplete due to COVID-19 and a lack of reporting.
The district did meet two of its goals which included having over 96 percent of NY Mills students who began ninth grade in NY Mills graduate high school. Last year 97.7 percent of those students graduated high school.
The district also met a rather unique goal to NY Mills which involved career planning. The unique goals include having 100 percent of ninth grade students complete the introduction to career course, having 100 percent of 11th grade students completing a comprehensive careers exploration unit and prior to the 2019-20 school year all incoming seniors and their parents will have a senior meeting with school personnel.
“This career and college readiness goal here we hit this out of the park,” said Novak.
The superintendent credited staff members who have laid the foundation for a unique college and career preparedness coursework to prepare students for life after high school. He said many school district have tried to duplicate what NY Mills has done for career planning, but have found it difficult to have similar success with the program.
In other news
• Heard that Matt Radniecki was named as the district football coach of the year.
• Heard an update on next summer’s building project at the school. Novak said there will be 60 percent more volume within the work than was done last summer. The high school and district office will also be displaced during a portion of the construction.
• Heard that the plan is to bring all students back to in-person learning on Jan. 4. There may be some changes in how the school day will look when students return, but final guidance from the state for the new rules each school district must follow is evolving.