New IT director at Killingly schools will oversee iPad program

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Oct. 7, 2013
Killingly schools' IT Director Anthony Tomah stands next to a main distribution frame at the central office. Photo by D. Coffey.
Killingly schools' IT Director Anthony Tomah stands next to a main distribution frame at the central office. Photo by D. Coffey.

As the new Information Technology director for the Killingly School District, Anthony Tomah has his hands full. He joined the school staff eight weeks ago, just before the start of a new academic year. He’s come in at the beginning of the one-to-one iPad program at the high school, and it’s now his responsibility to make sure things go as smoothly as possible.

“My first goal was to come up with a list of priorities,” Tomah said. “Simultaneously we have to instill confidence in the people using the technology.” By ‘we’ he means he and his IT staff. “We’re there for them,” he said. “We have great ideas. We’re moving in the right direction.”

The major technology change was the school’s decision to use iPads rather than the laptops for the one-to-one program. That decision was made before Tomah came on board, but it’s a program he’s enthusiastic about. The iPads have excellent educational software available in the App store, and the machines are very secure, according to Tomah. “The systems are extremely responsive and they work well together,” he said. It doesn’t hurt that viruses aren’t as much an issue as they are with PCs.  “That’s partly because the system is so locked down,” he said.

The costs of the iPad program, the ability to update programs, purchase and update texts, and the portability of the instruments were also key. “If we were to purchase laptops today, they’d cost $1.1 million,” Tomah said. “The iPads, with cases, are $609,000. That’s a pretty big difference.”

One of the other big concerns for Tomah is connectivity. Because students will be able to use their iPads while walking in the hallways, their ability to connect to the Internet throughout the building is all the more important. Students used laptops in classrooms, the library and cafeteria – wherever they could sit down and open them up. But with the iPads, students can hold them in one hand and use them wherever they go. That portability requires accessibility.

“We needed to be sure the wireless was capable of handling all those iPads roaming through the halls,” Tomah said. The system had to have enough access points so that students and staff wouldn’t have interruptions to their Internet connection. Tomah is making sure that won’t happen. He’s ordered 20 more access points and will put them in the high school were they’re most needed. “In the future, we want to put access points in the press box and in the barn so students can be connected anywhere on campus,” he said.

Tomah was brought in because of his technological expertise, but also because of his education in instructional technology and educational leadership. He’s in the process of beginning a master’s degree program in curriculum assessment and administration. As IT director, he’ll be responsible for training the teachers to use the iPads.

“The purpose of my master's was to be a trainer in technology,” he said. “I need to teach teachers to use the iPad in their disciplines. I’ve done it myself. I’ve directed others under me to do it.”

That charge may be just as important as getting the iPad program in the first place. “The general rule of thumb is that for every dollar you spend on technology, you spend $2 for professional development,” he said. The teachers have been working with iPads for a year already in a pilot program. Tomah intends to elevate their professional development. He wants to be a cheerleader, but he also wants to encourage the staff to have a more playful attitude towards their iPads.

“Kids learn from playing,” he said. “Adults tend to forget how to play. We learn by direction. The two don’t always meet.” One of his suggestions is for teachers to bring the iPads home to their kids. “They aren’t afraid of it,” he said.

In the future, Tomah hopes to bring more technology into the middle and elementary schools. He’s furnished carts with reworked laptops for the intermediate and elementary schools. His goal is to have one cart with 20 to 24 computers per grade. He’d like to see a bring-your-own-device environment eventually.

“We have high aspirations,” he said. “My hope is that people give the program a chance.”

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