Technology at Mepham

To help Nassau's local jurisdictions plan for the inevitable, the Nassau Citizens Budget Committee held a seminar in November, 1996 where local administrators discussed their jurisdictions' experiences in going online.

Addressing technology for public schools were Dr. Marc Bernstein, Superintendent of Bellmore-Merrick CHSD, and Robert Neumann, Director of Nassau BOCES' Division of Computer and Communications Technology. A summary of their comments (from NCBC's The Budget Watcher follows:

TECHNOLOGY FOR THE SCHOOLS

PLAN FIRST

Educational needs drive technology; know what you want technology for, or don't start. To keep educational needs in focus, it's important to have an educator/manager working with hired "techies", from BOCES and elsewhere. Bellmore-Merrick began its foray into high tech ten years ago, with a feasibility study by Cablevision.

Then BOCES coordinated planning so that the district didn't need to add staffers. Entry into high tech came in a small way after two years, with computers on carts being rolled around the schools to further the goal of bringing technology into the classroom.

GET SUPPORT

The PTA and school board were involved and became advocates. Department chairs were involved in the planning and still have weekly project meetings. No evaluations were done at first so that teachers wouldn't be afraid to take risks learning the new technology. Teachers were encouraged to volunteer for participation; parental pressure pushed the reluctant. (Technological proficiency is now required for teacher tenure as well as for graduation requirements for the students.)

FINANCING

Technology increased the budget by only a small percentage because the district made a five-year plan, to maintain a constant effort. Principals had to integrate technology costs into their regular budgets.

A gradual approach over several years, while trading off other instructional material for technology, and using BOCES and NY State building aid of 50%, permitted pay-as-you-go financing - with no bond issue. Cablevision was involved from the start in a phone system for distance learning, which phone savings paid for. (BOCES offers financing for technology and helps school districts even out expenses over five years at low interest.) Note: NY State's Office of General Services is preparing a statewide provider plan; Bellmore-Merrick will seek income by selling its own plan.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Many were involved in planning the infrastructure, including an architectural/engineering firm expert in school design. The online system and the phone lines have separate cables. The district went to Wide Area Network (WAN) by bid; LANs (Local Area Networks) were put out to bid more recently, with separate contracts to string wires and to interconnect hubs and classrooms. Every installation is customized and needs guidance. They plan on an on-site repair facility, on a shared basis. Provision has been made for future expansion. "A word of caution: Don't try to do it on the cheap!"

COORDINATION AND SHARING

Bellmore-Merrick preferred not to wait for BOCES to coordinate all districts' technology. It feared being limited because not all districts are at the same level -- and they're very independent, which Dr. Bernstein feels is self-defeating. He lamented the fact that nobody from the public or private sector is taking the leadership to coordinate tying into the system. "We have a Planning Commission for roads but not for technology, and we all lose."

A VISION FOR THE FUTURE

Mr. Neumann: We need a community learning network, a partnership of home, schools, universities, government, business/industry, libraries/museums, social services. We should be planning for integration of voice, data and video, delivered to the classroom from a wall plate. We have the potential on Long Island; we must put it all together.

Dr. Bernstein: There is a lack of coordination in the community. Libraries are great places for kids to gather; they're open in the evening and all have technology. Since kids like to talk, they should plan space to accommodate them and encourage social interaction.

Bellmore-Merrick would like to share its WAN which will soon be in place with the local library and perhaps others but there is no structure to bring the separate entities together for planning. Dr. Bernstein flattered NCBC by suggesting that it might take a role spearheading an effort to do just that countywide. While a somewhat daunting prospect for the agency, it certainly merits serious consideration.