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City Council OKs $100K in tech upgrades for South Portland schools

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City Council OKs $100K in tech upgrades for South Portland schools

SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council Monday night approved more than $100,000 in technology for schools.

Nearly $80,000 was approved for wireless upgrades to Kaler, Dyer and Small elementary schools. More than $32,000 was approved to purchase 10 interactive whiteboards, known as Smartboards. 

Two residents spoke against the investment.

Boothby Avenue resident Nancy Richardson suggested the technology initiative was too expensive, given the current economy. 

"I'm a little gulpy," Richardson said. "I think this is kind of expensive given the way we had to recoup money over the last year with layoffs." 

Colchester Drive resident Albert Dimillo questioned the necessity of giving wireless Internet to elementary school children and wondered whether a cost benefit analysis had been performed. 

"Tell me what the $79,000 does for you in terms of education," he said.  

School Technology Director Andrew Wallace said the wireless routers were needed because the district is increasing its efforts to integrate technology into the classroom, rather than designated computer labs.

In the past, classes would have to schedule time in the lab to use computers, he said, but with upgrades computers can be placed in classrooms.

Wallace the wireless capability should increase efficiency in the classroom.

"You get to take your resources and put them where they're needed," he said.

The district will also receive 10 more Smartboards, bringing the total number in the district to around 70. 

Smartboards allow teachers and students to manipulate computer projections with the touch of a finger, rather than using a keyboard. The Smartboards can also convert handwriting into text, among other functions.

Wallace said the boards have become an integral part of elementary education since the interactivity goes a long way to keeping young students engaged. 

"It's a wonderful technology that increases student engagement and does increase test scores," Wallace said. "It allows the student to drive the computer, rather than a teacher sitting behind a keyboard."

Councilor Tom Coward said his daughter fell in love with the technology several years ago when she was a long-term substitute teacher at Dyer Elementary School.

"We went to one of her parent nights and she was just over the moon with this thing, showing it to every parent that walked in the room," he said. "I think it goes beyond the whiz-bang attractiveness of the whole thing. She had whole lesson plans built around this Smartboard and was really pleased with the results and engagement she got from her students."

After the unanimous council votes, Richardson said during citizen comment that she was upset with the council approval. "This makes me a little disappointed in the council," she said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net