School Board Grapples with Options for Tech Ed

The Derry School Board continued to discuss the merits of three different options for replacing its aging Technology Education curriculum for its two middle schools.

At the Nov. 18 School Board meeting the Tech Ed instructors for each school, Steve Thomas and Rich Jaillet, spoke along with District Technology Director Ray Larose.

At the Oct. 28 board meeting the two teachers had discussed options for updating or replacing the school’s Tech Ed curriculum, currently the Synergistic program. Options include:

• Modernizing Synergistic at $50,000 for each school, and making it compatible with the iMac for another $45,180. Total: $145,180.

• Modernizing the program, again at $50,000 for each school, and buying PCs for both schools at $22,657. Total: $122,657.

• Purchasing 62 iPads at $27,480, iPad Apple Care at $1,136, a charging cart at $1,600 and start-up equipment at $7,599. Total: $37,815.

The teachers reported on their research to questions raised in the October meeting, including what other schools are doing. Larose said Londonderry offers woodworking, CAD (computer aided design) and drafting, but only for eighth grade. Salem has a full Tech Ed program including alternative energy, while Windham does not offer Tech Ed. Hampstead offers Materials Processing in sixth grade, Manufacturing in seventh and Architecture and Engineering in eighth. Hooksett offers a traditional industrial arts program with woodworking and materials processing, and Auburn offers hot air balloons in sixth grade, robotic arms in seventh and bridge building in eighth.

Merrimack is the only other local school using Synergistic, he said.

But Merrimack has also updated to the Web-based Synergistic program, Thomas said, noting, “There have been a lot of changes in eight years – it’s easier for children to understand.”

Board members asked if, should the iPad option be chosen, they had a roll-out plan in mind.

“We would continue with Synergistic and phase in two modules a month with the iPads,” Jaillet said.

Member Dan McKenna asked how many Synergistic modules the teachers were currently using. Jaillet said he is currently using 15, while Thomas said he was using 17. “But with the iPad we can have unlimited numbers of modules,” he said. The teachers can create their own or obtain videos from YouTube, he pointed out.

Jaillet said he leaned toward the iPad model. “It’s more versatile,” he told the board.

But he also had praise for Synergistic, noting that it helped make kids “career-ready” with modules such as one on electronics. “It was ahead of its time with STEM,” he said, using the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

It is also a known quantity, Thomas said, adding, “If money were not a factor, updating Synergistic is what I would recommend.”

Superintendent Laura Nelson observed that many companies allow programs to be amortized over a period of years.

McKenna said, “We tend to pilot a lot of things, but in this case pilots make sense. We should buy a few of the iPads and try it.”

He asked the two teachers how urgent the need was, and Jaillet said, “We are in a Band-Aid situation.”

Larose was more blunt and said, “It is on its last legs.”

Vice-Chairman Ken Linehan said he was struggling with the issue. It bothers him that so few schools are using Synergistic, and he is concerned that tech support for the program will dry up. “But it also sounds like we’re doing more in Tech Ed than other districts,” he observed.

“I think it’s important to look at the teachers working in the program and the program needs,” Nelson said.

Linehan noted that the working budget had a possible $900,000 increase over last year, but Larose replied that the iPads were already part of his working budget for 2015.

“Part of my fear is the high price,” Assistant Superintendent MaryAnn Connors-Krikorian said. “From a financial standpoint, the iPads are more doable.”

The iPads are in Larose’s budget at the $37,815 cost. But even with add-ons, Jaillet said, the maximum spent would be $50,000.

No decision was made.