by Dave Warner
The capital improvement project that passed last year for the Little Falls School District is not the only thing happening in Little Falls when it comes to education. Educators have been looking at and working on the technology infrastructure to ensure that it will sustain what’s to come when all of the construction dust has settled.
A lot of time has already been spent on upgrades, including new fiber and Cat 6 cabling to all of the classrooms. High School Principle Leeann Dooley even noted that when they got into the project, they realized that they were still running copper wire instead of the latest cable needed for today’s technology.
“All of that needed to be changed out and it’s something that took quite a few years, but we were able to redo everything to be able to sustain ourselves for the next 10 years,” she said. According to Dooley, the backbone is now in place for what is going to come next.
The push is to improve the arts, computers and the sciences. Dooley said “We do a great job here at the district with the sciences and the math. We have very high-level courses. However, when we were talking to students that left us in engineering, they were leaving with deficits in coding and other important areas.”
She said that the goal is to allow the high-end students to leave with skills that can be used in the real world. “When you look at the technology end of things, we want to make sure that we’re giving our kids the best opportunity possible.”
One of the things that are going to happen is an upgrading of the computer labs at the school. “We know it’s one of those things that have to be fixed over the next two years,” she said. “It’s not as easy as just buying equipment, but you have to make sure that the infrastructure can handle it.”
The district has already started introducing new courses that are going to take advantage of the capital project and facilities that will become available.
They are also looking at the schedule and how that works because the eighty-minute every other day block schedule is just not working for most students. Dooley said “Eighty minutes is a very long time for some kids and they’re losing interest. They’re not focusing for that entire time.”
The school is looking at alternate schedules and doing some testing to see what will work best. They are also focused on what the school should be known for – a focus that people will understand and one that meets the needs of the area.
“I would like to see something well-rounded. Do we bring in an agricultural program, do we bring in more tech? I’m looking at getting CnC machines so that they’re used to working on CAD programs,” Dooley said.
They are even looking at the idea of bringing in what they are calling adjunct professors – professionals from the community that have certain skills that they’d like to teach at the school. “Could we find a way to team them with a teacher where they would be the presenter and teach many of these courses over ten weeks,” she said.
According to Dooley, nobody is really doing things that way and there is no precedent for how it should work. “We’re trying to figure out how that would work for us.”
According to Superintendent Dr. Keith Levatino “We have to look at the Mohawk Valley and what jobs are potentially available as well. What will be available in the future and what are businesses looking for now. We also have to have a focus on communication skills. We’re finding that once students graduate, they can’t communicate effectively.”
Levatino said that they are implementing systems to align the curriculum using data to drive the instruction. “We’ve been quietly moving things forward,” he said. “The keywords are guaranteed and viable. It means that every student will receive the same curriculum by the time they leave this school district. Viable means that it’s achievable.”
A lot of the testing and focus for their data gathering is individual student needs. The home aspect is worked into the strategy for moving students forward as well.*
“In the past, you wouldn’t have high school teachers meeting with elementary ones or vice versa. Now we’re having those conversations. It’s very important for my high school math teacher, for example, to understand where those students are coming from,” said Dooley.
“It’s also important for our elementary school teachers to understand where students need to get to as well,” she said.
The next-gen science curriculum is going to be the focus this summer. “My hope is to have the programs built and things ironed out before the new spaces in the capital project are even completed,” said Dooley.
In anticipation of some of the next-gen direction that they’ll take, the school district has already started robotics, graphic design, and coding classes.
Levatino said that as educators, they have to focus on what will happen in the next twenty years or so. “So the spaces built now have to be able to accommodate the future. It’s not just what’s happening today, but it’s also what’s down the road.”
“More than half the capital project is focused on infrastructure – the normal wear and tear of 20 years of use. I want people to understand that it’s not just $29 million dollars for curriculum. It’s important to know that,” said Levatino.
Bidding for the capital project is supposed to begin this fall, and according to Dr. Levatino, they hope to start digging in the late spring of 2020 and to be finished by 2022.
*Editors Note: Read the column “Inequalities in Education: a community perspective” by Erin Fox, a contributor to My Little Falls. She addresses some of the socio-economic challenges that the school district faces.