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Longmeadow school district featured in MBI newsletter for technology investments

Date: 11/20/2014

LONGMEADOW – The school district was recently featured in the Massachusetts Broadband Institute’s (MBI) September to October 2014 newsletter, which focused on the district’s investment in new technology while saving tax dollars.

“Longmeadow Public Schools have had a five year plan to improve our technology and we’re now entering the fifth year,” Superintendent of Schools Marie Doyle said. “Parts of the plan were to increase the broadband as well as bringing in the hardware and the software that we need to meet the needs of students and teachers.”

During the plan’s fourth year, the newly constructed Longmeadow High School (LHS) connected to the MassBroadband123 network, which has allowed 1,000 students and 100 teachers to utilize enhanced fiber optic broadband Internet, according to the MBI.

“That meant that we could now download videos as well as have many classrooms and teachers online without impacting the ability to network to transfer that information,” Doyle added.

Kevin Warenda, director of technology, stated in the MBI newsletter that connecting to the MassBroadband123 network has lowered monthly fee for Internet usage.

“We chose to build our own fiber network in town to connect the rest of the buildings to the high school so that we could share a single connection to MBI,” he added. “The cost of that fiber network build out was $440,000, which was approved at a town meeting a couple years ago. The unique thing about it is that we were able to use short-term loans to cover the $440,000 and paid them back each year with the savings we realized as a result of switching to MBI. This means we were able to borrow the money and complete the project without impacting taxes at all.”

Warenda said LHS serves as the Community Anchor Institution (CAI) for the town’s connection to the MBI network. Initially, the network was not able to reach all 14  town buildings without the CAI. 

The district also adopted a “bring your own device” model because of the increased capabilities to handle Internet traffic that the MassBroadband123 network allows, Doyle stated. Students use Google Chromebooks, laptops, iPads, and other devices in the classroom.

“Our eighth grade uses Discovery Science, which is an online learning program,” Doyle noted. “The students are able to access all the videos and projects at home as well as at school because the program is online.”

Elementary and middle school students are reading electronic books (e-books) and can self select books based on individual student reading levels, she said.

“The high school also has brought on e-books but they have new math and anatomy and physiology textbooks that have electronic versions as well so students don’t have to carry their textbooks home but can access their learning online, any place they are,” Doyle added.

The district is exploring possibilities to teach robotics to elementary and middle school students, she noted. Mandarin Chinese is also being offered online at LHS through Middlebury College in Vermont.

“I think [the MBI newsletter article] speaks volumes about the work of Kevin Warenda; that he not only had a vision but the tenacity to stick with the long term plan,” Doyle added. “It’s taken years to create partnerships between the town and MBI.”

The MBI cited several initiatives in the district that were noteworthy, including a virtual anti-bullying education campaign consisting of students teaching those in lower grades about the problem of bullying via Skype chats.

Other programs include virtual sharping for applications for online learning spaces such as Google Classroom, Edmodo, and Moodle. Teachers and administrators at LHS also use cloud-based applications such as a town-wide hosted phone system.

“I’d like to say that this is something that doesn’t happen overnight,” added Doyle. “It takes years of planning [and] budgeting.”