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Coleman School Wins $100,000 In National Technology Contest

Use of technology in the Coleman School district is about to take a giant step forward. Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America (SIICA), a subsidiary of Sharp Electronics Corporation, recently named Coleman winner of $100,000 worth of Sharp technology in a contest that attracted 550 entries from school districts all across America.

Like Coleman School District, the Japanese-based firm is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and the contest is part of that centennial celebration. Doug Albregts, president of the firm, and David Alai, senior vice president of marketing, are to visit Coleman on Wednesday, Jan. 30 for a special check presentation ceremony at the school. Parents, community members, and news media are invited to attend the 2:30 p.m. assembly in the high school gym.

District Administrator Brian Walters told Coleman School Board about the award at their regular monthly meeting Monday, Jan. 21, although it had already been widely announced on local and national news media.

Walters said after getting advice from the Sharp professionals they will decide how to spend the $100,000 grant to bring the greatest amount of benefit to students of the district. Possible products are interactive displays, copier/printers, professional projectors, calculators, LCD TVs and air purifiers.

Along with their written contest essay and demographic information about the district, Coleman staff and students had worked together to prepare a video presentation. Walters said the Sharp people were impressed that everyone participated.

“I’m really proud of the way staff and students all stepped forward to help with this project,” Walters declared.

He said the $100,000 in technology equipment from Sharp can help Coleman advance on the path to becoming a great school district.

“After reviewing the district’s submission and watching their video, we knew we had found our winner,” Albregts said of the award to Coleman. “Coleman’s response demonstrated the district’s need for advanced technology, as well as their understanding of how Sharp’s products could enhance the learning experience of their students.”

“We are in desperate need of updated technology in all our classrooms,” Walters told the board. “Budget cuts have made keeping up with technological advancements a real struggle. This award from Sharp will benefit our students tremendously...We couldn’t be happier or more excited for the future!”

Coleman’s Nov. 30 contest entry had mentioned the on-line video the district made earlier in the school year to celebrate its 100th anniversary, and cited the need to move toward “an individualized, customizable and modernized educational model,” while adding that they had not been able to keep up with technological updates because of budget constraints. The applicants said educators also need to be models of technology use, “and to this end, we are doing our students a great disservice. This is why winning this contest would completely transform our school.”

The entry also mentions that more than 50 percent of Coleman students come from families that are struggling financially, and are on free or reduced lunch. For that reason, a referendum aimed at upgrading technology was deemed unrealistic.

There was reference to recent retirements that resulted in nearly half the teaching staff being “newly minted” teachers unable to implement the instructional methods they had just learned. The application included a pledge to “search under every rock for funding to do what is best for our kids and our community,” and to “make sure our teachers are trained on the technology needed to engage all learners.”

“I’m really proud of the way staff and students stepped forward to help with this project,” Walters told the board. “This chunk of change will go a long way toward transforming our school district.” He said Coleman has lagged behind on technology, but that is about to change.

Much of the meeting was devoted to discussion of technology, some of it related to the Sharp contest award, and some not.

After an enthusiastic report from Technology Director Mike Perry on the benefits of I-Pad use and the need to encourage teachers to use the new technology, including storage of data in “the cloud”, the board voted to buy up to 30 of the 10-inch I-Pads at no more than $400 each, up to a maximum of $12,000. Teachers will be allowed to take them home and use them as their own for deposits of $70 each, provided they demonstrate willingness to learn the technology at home and use it in their classrooms.

Teachers who leave the district before three years are up will have to leave the I-Pads behind. Money for the purchase is to come from savings realized when Perry was able to buy a wireless router connection at a very low cost, saving the money budgeted for wiring classrooms to handle Internet communications. The device will eliminate much need for updates, and continue saving the district money well into the future, Perry said.

“We won’t need to keep buying more and more servers, everything is stored in the cloud, and teachers and students can access their information anywhere they have Internet.” He compared it with e-mail, which can be retrieved from any computer anywhere, as long as it is connected to the Internet and the user knows the password.

Walters told the board the National Center for Education is pushing to have textbooks eliminated from school classrooms within five years. Paperless technology, made possible by things like I-Pads and Smart Boards and other ways to retrieve information that may not even have been invented yet will replace them. Students are not limited to the information between two covers, they can look anywhere on the Internet. Walters said eventually all teachers will be required to learn Internet and other on-line skills.

There was some concern by board members that students will not learn the basics, such as hand writing and mathematic computations without the benefit of computers or calculators, but Walters assured them that will not necessarily happen. Teachers can use technology even to teach those skills.

Regarding to technology, “We need to get on board now, to get literate right now, or we’ll never come close to meeting our technology plan,” Walters declared.

“We’re expecting to do big things here ...We’re expecting to become a top notch school district,” Walters told the board, “So we’d better start behaving like a top- notch school district.”

Scott Herzog wondered if students could be enlisted to instruct teachers in computer and I-pad use. Perry said in other districts teachers who took their new I-pads home in the spring and came back as computer experts in the fall.

Board member Jamie Graetz felt that rather than allow teachers to retain their I-pads when they became obsolete they should be returned to the district and given to students who could not afford to buy their own. Walters knew of a district that occasionally has a day when students can buy obsolete lap tops for $20 or so. With a motion by Board member Joanne Nowak, seconded by Brad Korpi, the board unanimously approved purchase of the I-Pads.

On other regular District business, the board unanimously approved a policy stating they will not deny open enrollment applications due to space for the 2013-2014 school year. Nowak asked what he would do if 300 kids wanted to enroll in one year, and Walters said he’d throw a party. Ted Verges asked what if there were 20 applicants for special ed programs, and Walters said they can always deny admission based on the high cost of special ed. He said the tentative budget for next year includes projections for a decrease of 20 students.

A 1-year extension to the TRITON distance learning contract was approved. Formerly the contracts were for five years, but things are changing too fast for that in recent years, Walters said.

With many expressions of regret and a few tears, the board accepted the resignation of Administrative Assistant Judy Hazelo, effective on Friday, March 15. The resignation letter indicated she wants to spend more time at home.

“She’ll be a hard person to replace,” declared Nowak.

“I’ve only been here for eight months,”commented Walters, “but I feel she is one of the reasons for my easy transition here.”

“Her wisdom and insight have been very helpful,” agreed Board president Ryan Wendt.

The board accepted the resignations of Caitlin Dowden as head volleyball coach and Sara Mertz as 8th grade volleyball coach. Dowden had earlier in the year resigned as a teacher for Coleman but remained in the volleyball coach position, leading the team to the conference championship. Walters said Mertz has a little one at home and wants to spend more time with her child.

Walters presented a brief preview of the 2013-2014 budget, noting he started with a $74,000 deficit this year. He calculated a 2 percent increase in non-wage items for next year, which would add $54,000 to the shortfall.

To help cover those deficits he is looking at reorganizing the district office, changing employee contributions to retirement, and finding other savings in retirement and insurance costs. Also, a state aid increase of about $100 per pupil is almost a certainty for next year, Walters said, adding this would increase income by $83,000, “so I think we’re starting from a very strong position for next year.”

Walters reminded the board a few months ago they had asked him to write to legislators after learning that federal mandates that restrict calories served for hot lunch meals resulted in a lot of kids being still hungry after eating lunch. He had written to Congressman Reid Ribble, who assures him he will keep looking into effect of the hot lunch restrictions on active and athletic students. He said Ribble told him he feels education and student policy should be handled at the local level, and hopefully they can get a long term solution that makes sense.

Walters said he continues to look at options for employee health and dental insurance coverage, seeking opportunities to save wherever he can.

He has started eliminating a lot of ad hoc committees in favor of establishing an instructional leadership team that will make decisions on curriculum, “and we have a good foundation for the start of it.”

Walters and about 25 other instructors and administrators from Coleman, Oconto Falls and Lena school districts recently participated in a “Manage to Lead” training workshop at Coleman. “Hopefully you’ll see good changes as a result of it,” Walters said.

He had met with Representatives Jeff Mursau and John Nygren regarding the biennial state budget and the impact it will have on school district budgets, particularly in the realms of safety, retirement and health insurance. “I wanted to see where they stand on those things,” he said, adding that Coleman, as a small rural school district, “...certainly isn’t one of the big dogs, but hopefully now we have their ears.”

He said Sen. Dave Hansen was supposed to meet with them also, but had rescheduled.

Walters has been chosen first alternate as a delegate to the Wisconsin School Administrator’s Alliance.

Discussions on school safety and security, in the wake of the recent school shootings, occupied a bit of the board’s time. Walters said they have had two recent lock downs, and are looking at their needs as a school district. He is hopeful state levy limits will be relaxed enough to cover some costs related to providing added security.

That led to a discussion of possible measures that could be taken, including cameras and door locking mechanisms, as well as instructions to students not to let people into the building at doors that are locked against outside entrance.

Nowak asked about a recent lock down. She had been told that it was just a drill, and then she had been told that it was not. Walters explained a teacher heard a suspicious noise, so they called all the kids in from outside and locked the doors. Since there was only 20 minutes left of the school day students were soon dismissed. Nowak felt parents should be advised of such things as soon as possible after they happen.

“It makes me mad that we can’t do a thing about it,” President Wendt declared, referring to threats against children, and state laws against guns in schools. “We can put all our kids in a classroom and they do everything right and it still happens....If somebody’s hell bent on doing something heinous, they’re going to find a way to do it!”

He asked what good it does to have locked doors and security cameras when most of the shootings have been by a student entering the building with a weapon in a back pack. “Marinette had locked doors and armed guards and it still happened!” he declared. He wondered aloud what it would feel like to know there was an armed person bent on harm in the building and there was nothing you could do about it except maybe hide the kids under a desk or in a closet. “No matter what you try, unfortunately there are sick people out there who do evil things!” he concluded.

Verges was glad Walters is looking at emergency policies, and felt that since the new administrator had worked in other school districts, perhaps he had an idea what worked elsewhere and what did not. Verges also recalled board discussions on where parents could pick up their kids if there was a school lock out, and was told that currently the elementary students are to go to the Country Dollar and high school students to the church across the street. Verges wondered if those facilities had enough bathrooms to serve all the students, and if there was enough parking area for parents picking up their kids.

Wendt wondered if perhaps teachers could have pepper spray or tasers. Walters suggested perhaps a hand gun could be kept in the school safe in the office.

Herzog commented anybody could have a hand gun, but wondered how many could point it at someone and use it.

Walters wondered if options should be available for teachers that want to get trained and have a weapon in their rooms. Most of the board appeared to agree that would be a good plan.

Verges wondered if local police have floor plans for the school facilities, and Elementary Principal Kathy Jo Kostrova assured her that the Coleman Police Chief Ida Soletske does. Perry told the board they have set up cameras in the school so that police can do a virtual walk through of the buildings.

As an agenda item for the next regular board meeting, which was set for Monday, Feb. 18, Nowak said she had been approached by several people after the Christmas program regarding the speaker system. “A lot of people put a lot of work into that program and many people couldn’t hear,”Nowak declared. She wondered if hanging microphones over the stage would be an answer. Kostrova agreed something needs to be done. She said the school had already received at least one donation from a community member for a new microphone system, so there is already a fund started.

Verges said he had attended a Booster Club meeting earlier in the evening, and it was brought up that they had donated some time ago toward purchase of speakers and at least two of them were lost.

No action was taken, but there will be discussion next month.

Verges asked that the Feb. 18 agenda include a look at the possibility of adding successful completion of at least one on-line course as a graduation requirement for Coleman students.

“Our mission statement says we are to encourage students to become life long learners,” Verges declared. “I wonder if one of our requirements should be that they take one on-line course so they know how to do it.”

Herzog said he had read of another district doing just that, and Walters said at least one doing it is Waukesha. Students there can complete the course either during study hall at school or at home

The 7 p.m. Feb. 14 meeting will be preceded by a 6 p.m. meeting of the Activities Committee. The board was told the Cross Country team is looking at becoming a WIAA sport.

After completing other business the board went into closed executive session for a staffing update and to discuss an office position. Walters said later they took no action in closed session and they also took no action after returning to open session to adjourn.

During time for public comment at the start of the meeting, former board member Jerry Pillath presented information on pros and cons of solar power panels he proposes as a source of “green” energy for the school district and a learning tool for students.


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