Wilton school technology program gets review

WILTON — The Board of Education heard an update Thursday evening on the district’s ongoing push to keep students abreast of burgeoning technology and immersed in new learning innovations.

“It’s actually really very fitting that we’re presenting on the last Board of Education meeting this year going into 2020,” said Fran Kompar, director of digital learning, noting it was 20 years into the 21st century.

“And that we’re talking about essentially rebranding ourselves as modern learning as opposed to digital technology,” she said of their discipline.

Alongside Erik Haakonsen, director of technology, Kompar outlined advances the district has made in fostering new approaches to teaching, including the creation of Library Learning Commons—flexible workspaces with tech access—that are being piloted in the schools.

“We’re in year three of a multiple-year plan and we have much to celebrate,” Kompar said, noting the district has received several awards for its tech and multi-media initiatives the last two years.

“We have a curriculum that includes coding,” she said, with Scratch and ScratchJr the programs being used to augment what she described as innovative STEM-related thinking in this area.

“None of this is possible without having a robust and reliable infrastructure,” she said, noting Haakonsen’s key role in seeing this through.

Asked if there were any overriding concerns for the district’s foray into the future, Haakonsen said it was important for the district to follow through with the original plan.

“We have a five-year plan that we’re working our way through and I think it’s important that we see the plan through to completion,” he said, noting that sometimes it’s possible to get sidetracked with a technology plan and abandon ideas as things change.

“We need to make sure that we continue through the end of the plan to make sure that we dot the I’s and cross the T’s,” he said.

Part of the ongoing work involves staff development — something Superintendent of School Kevin Smith said is always challenging to address given time constraints.

“This is an area that just exploded and our teachers want to do it right the first time and they want to do it well the first time,” he said. “And that requires time and support, and so we are constantly in this push-pull.”

Following a question from one board member, Kompar noted that more should be done in terms of engaging parents through workshops to introduce them to some of the technology being used by their children.

“I think that is something we need to do in the second part of the year,” she said, noting they’ve tried to communicate with parents but need to do more.

She was asked about how work with technology in the classroom relates to life outside of it — in particular the role of social media.

“The school is not necessarily teaching social media … but in today’s world, those problems become school problems,” said board member Ruth DeLuca.

“We’re very strong on digital citizenship,” Kompar said.

She said instruction is beginning early at Miller-Driscoll School, where children are taught about proper digital behavior, about how you stay safe online, and how to effectively manage your profile, including a consciousness of leaving a digital footprint.

Kompar said instruction in this area also speaks to social impact online as well, “how you can really make a difference online, and that speaks not just to academics, that speaks to life,” she said.

Several of the school principals in attendance spoke to the value of the Library Learning Commons—the flexibility of the seating and the positive reactions from those teachers who are involved with them.

“It’s a welcoming learning environment,” said Robert O’Donnell, Wilton High School principal.

“The teachers, I think, crave it,” he said. “They want something different.”

Board member Gretchen Jeanes, who works with facilities and construction in New York City, noted that office space is evolving accordingly.

“All the work environments are changing,” she said, with employees no longer expected to be at a solitary desk for eight straight hours.

“It’s good to see that it’s reflected,” Jeanes said.

“The kids love it,” said Kathryn Coon, Miller-Driscoll principal. “They love choice.”

Lauren Feltz, principal at Middlebrook School, concurred.

“We want our kids to be able to make empowered choices,” she said.