New year, new technology

Falls students, faculty prepare for changes

Mark Schneider works to service a computer workstation in North Middle School on Aug. 23 in advance of the opening of Menomonee Falls schools on Sept. 4.

Mark Schneider works to service a computer workstation in North Middle School on Aug. 23 in advance of the opening of Menomonee Falls schools on Sept. 4. Photo By C.T. Kruger

Aug. 28, 2012

Menomonee Falls - Technology integration is at the forefront for the 2012-2013 school year in Menomonee Falls.

From wireless Internet with increased speed to tablets and laptops, the Menomonee Falls School District has upgraded its network and implemented an array of new technology in the classroom to enhance learning and streamline teaching.

SMART boards, projectors and document cameras are now in all core classrooms at the four kindergartens, North Middle School and the high school, Director of Technology Jeff Nennig said.

"You don't change curriculum to fit technology, you find tools to help in complementing what we're doing as core curriculum," said Gary Kiltz, director of curriculum and learning. "The curriculum is driving the technology tools, so the tools become one way to engage students in the learning process."

Learning with laptops

The district purchased 350 laptops that will be distributed to teachers across the district. Every year, computers that are seven years or older are recycled out of the district. The district is integrating laptops to replace the computer units this year.

For the 2012-2013 school year, ninth-graders have the option of participating in the laptop pilot program for a $10 fee or a $35 fee that would cover damages. This is the only new fee across the district related to instruction. There is, however, a 10-cent increase in lunch prices.

The district laptops will be complemented by wireless Internet that as of last week is running districtwide. Wireless Internet was part of the technology infrastructure project the School Board approved in spring. The upgrades are paid for through the district's fund balance, which is money saved over the years to go toward projects such as this.

"We did a lot of improvements," Nennig said. "The board has been very supportive, and we expect all the projects to be up and running by September."

Teaching aided by tablets

Implementing technology in the elementary schools started as a pilot project last year. Due to its success, technology will complement the curriculum as it moves closer to the common core, which is the international benchmark districts will now be measured against.

"We're doing a heavy integration with technology in ninth grade and kindergarten because that's the platform kids are going to be expected to use in college," Superintendent Patricia Greco said.

Last year, tablets were introduced at Valley View Elementary for reading intervention. There are a slew of applications available to assist children in becoming better readers. Due to the project's success, Nennig said five iPads were placed in each of the 13 sections in 5-year-old kindergarten. Teachers will be trained on the iPads in late September.

Tablets will also be utilized by reading specialists and in special education throughout the district.

"Our plan is to expand the tablet device, which works so well with kids, through the second-grade classroom over the next few years," Nennig said.

Kiltz said there is a new set of standards in place for information technology. By giving students greater access to devices, those standards can be implemented in the classroom.

The standards revolve around the common core. For parents and students, this means the level of critical thinking skills and the application of new material is expected to be more rigorous, Greco said.

"It's always been a goal, but now they are getting better at refining how to implement it," she said.

The district is continually working to be aligned with the common core.

In addition to this alignment, there will also be changes in state testing as students will now be compared internationally. Greco said the expectations for the new international comparison are "really high."

"It will be far more stringent and that doesn't mean our results will change, it's just comparing it to the international measure," Greco said. "The grades won't change, but what you're comparing it to will change over the next couple of years."

Upgrades connect educators

As testing changes and curriculum becomes more rigorous, educators will be able to communicate more efficiently through technology upgrades district wide.

All machines in the district have been streamlined to operate with a Windows system, which Nennig said will decrease login time for both teachers and students.

Teachers will also have access to an electronic distribution system where they can share course materials, PowerPoints and teaching resources through a Web-based repository.

"You create a playlist of all the things you teach and when you put resources into the system you tag it to a learning standard," Nennig explained. "You not only upload it into the system, but you tag it and say it relates to certain standards, subjects and units."

For example, a teacher could tag a PowerPoint presentation "biology." That presentation would come up when fellow educators search for that subject or related material.

A similar type of storage system is also available for testing information. At the end of each unit in a class, there will be a common core assessment. The results, as well as scores from tests such as the ACT, will be placed into that system.

"The beauty of the whole system is, as a classroom teacher, you can log in and look at all current and past information on a student and it will help teachers make good decisions," Nennig said.

New classes, new principals

Change is inevitable as the new school year approaches, and Menomonee Falls is no exception.

At the high school level, the Japanese program is being phased out to make room for a new course in Mandarin.

A civil engineering course will be offered for the first time this year as part of the district's Project Lead the Way curriculum. Also available for students is Calculus BC, which is a level above the standard Calculus AB. Kiltz said due to student interest, they were able to add the BC course.

High school students will not only be greeted by a few new courses, they will be greeted by a new administrator.

Principal Corey Golla is beginning his first year with the Menomonee Falls School District after serving as the athletic and activities director for Brookfield East High School for the past eight years, as well as associate principal. Andy Farley, who is also moving from Brookfield East, was named assistant principal.

On the first day of school, Golla said they are kicking off the first full day of a utilizing the behavior intervention system, which is a way to model and ultimately instill good behavior in students. During the summer, students made videos that show acceptable and unacceptable behavior that will be shown to teachers, who can then implement good behavior in the classroom.

"A big focus this year is that school is a place of work and continuing and expanding that idea," Golla said. "It's not just saying we expect good behavior, it's teaching it and modeling it."

He said behavior begins tangibly with the student handbook and flows into the classroom.

"They will see what our common expectations of behavior are on the first day," Golla said. "It's a skill we want to start teaching in the building."

Technology infrastructure upgrades

migrated email system to Microsoft Exchange server

migrated network operating system to Microsoft Windows server

installed a managed wireless network in all district buildings

upgraded outdated network switches and added support for wireless network

upgraded the data backup system

upgraded the firewall and Internet filtering system and other server items

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