East Hartford elementary schools getting SMART-er; IT staff completes technology upgrades

By Corey AmEnde - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Fri., Sep. 13, 2013
Computer labs consisting of 30 computers have been installed in all nine elementary schools in East Hartford. Photos by Corey AmEnde.
Computer labs consisting of 30 computers have been installed in all nine elementary schools in East Hartford. Photos by Corey AmEnde.

While students were enjoying their summer break, the information technology staff at the East Hartford public schools was busy making upgrades and improvements across the district. One of the biggest changes made over the summer is the installation of a computer lab consisting of 30 computers in a designated space within all nine elementary schools in the district.

Guy Collins, supervisor of IT for East Hartford public schools, said most of these labs were installed in the existing media centers and include new computers and new furniture.

“It's completely transformed out media center,” said Dr. Edward Orszulak, the principal at Anna E. Norris Elementary School on Remington Road. “It's really the intellectual hub of the building. To see this – all new furniture, all new hardware, all new software – it's fantastic.”

In total, 279 personal computers were installed in the meeting rooms or designated spaces for all nine elementary schools. There were also four PCs added to each kindergarten through second-grade classroom across the district, for a total of 340 PCs. Collins said the installation of these four computers in each K-2 classroom will allow teachers to incorporate technology into their lesson plans and get children comfortable and acclimated to using technology at a young age.

Collins said the district began purchasing computers and furniture at the end of June. After the computers were delivered, they were brought to the high school, where operating systems and software such as Fast Math and Fraction Nation were installed on each computer. Power poles were installed in the labs for the data and electrical power. The furniture started arriving at the end of July and into the early part of August.

“I wasn't really expecting to have every single lab 100 percent in September, but we're going to be there,” said Collins. “We're going to have all the labs up and running, ready to go.” Collins said one of the benefits of the fixed lab is that it's easier to rotate teachers and students through the space, as opposed to the older system of a laptop cart that was transported to each classroom as needed.

Other upgrades include 240 PCs across the district to replace aging computers, 25 laptops at the middle school, 100 Chromebooks to replace old laptops at the Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy, 24 PCs for two Read 180 labs at the middle school and 48 SMART boards, for a grand total of 1,008 PCs and laptops.

For those who still remember chalkboards and the piercing sound of fingernails on them, a SMART board is essentially a computerized, interactive chalkboard. Orszulak said there are SMART boards in every classroom at Norris School and the boards have “completely transformed classrooms.”

Norris School also hired a technology coach - Jamie Prokop - for support on Thursdays and Fridays. Prokop provides training sessions, training tips and technical assistance in the classroom. “That kind of ongoing support is phenomenal,” said Orszulak.

Another benefit of the technology is the improved efficiency in tracking students' progress. Orszulak said, as an example, every student at Norris has access to Fast Math three times a week for 10 minutes a day. “The math department tracks usage in every building, so I can see grade level to grade level how many people are accessing that service,” said Orszulak. “Also through the training and the work of the media technology coach, they'll be able to see who is getting it the quickest, who needs extra support, who's able to go on their own and where do we really have to focus on support skills for both students and for the teachers,” added Orszulak.

With the technology upgrade nearly complete, Collins said he is working with the two assistant superintendents, Anne Marie Mancini and Debbie Kaprove, on securing grant funding for a second phase of improvements to the technology. Collins said they would like to purchase 150 laptops for the high school and install additional SMART boards. Additionally, they asked for, “30 iPads and an iPad cart per each one of the schools, and we asked for wireless infrastructure to cover teacher classrooms, common areas and instructional areas,” said Collins. The iPads would be used to assist with yearly assessment testing. “But that's only for a few weeks out of the year, so for the rest of the year we'd have these additional 30 iPads that we could basically break out into one of the classrooms and use instructionally; and we'd have the wireless already set up so it could be very easy for the teachers,” added Collins.

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