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School District No. 57 (Prince George)
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News Item

Wireless and technology upgrades to be part of budget discussions

May 03, 2019

May 3, 2019 –

Upgrading wireless internet infrastructure and improving learning outcomes through the addition of appropriate information technology have been identified as priority initiatives being considered by the School District No. 57 board of trustees for the 2019-2020 budget.

A third initiative – increasing the ability of elementary schools to deliver high-quality instruction in inclusive learning environments – has also been given priority status as trustees decide the best ways to utilize funds in a 2019-2020 budget projected to be $145 million.

Staff from School District No. 57 (Prince George) brought the three issues before the board on Tuesday, April 30. The board decided to advance all three to an Expanded Committee of the Whole (ECOW) meeting the next day, May 1.

"They were added to the list of priorities that came out from the expanded committee, who identified those items and other items as important to be considered by the Board," said Board Chair, Tim Bennett.

"The next step is, the Board will meet and look at all of the options that were presented at ECOW, as well as any options and priorities that the trustees have, and provide direction to staff as to what to include into the budget," Bennett added. "A lot of those items now have been forwarded to the finance department and the Superintendent of Schools to start costing out so the board can recognize how much those items are going to cost and then we can work to see what we can do with available funds."

During the April 30 board meeting, held in McBride, Morris Scarpino, District Technology Support Coordinator, told trustees via video conference that the last "wireless refresh" in district schools was in 2011. At that time, he said, many District 57 schools did not have wireless internet.

Since 2011, Scarpino noted that some schools have put in school allocated dollars to improve wireless connectivity, but with the explosion of wireless-enabled devices being used in schools by teachers and students, the original infrastructure is now being pushed beyond its capacity.

Scarpino said School District No. 57 currently has close to $300,000 designated for a wireless internet upgrade but more funds are required to do the job properly.

Chris Molcak, District Principal, Information Technology Skills, Trades and Careers, explained that just under $980,000 would be needed to bring everything – including in the Central Administration Office and facilities where joint-use agreements exist – up to standard.

Molcak pointed out that $80,000 per year is built into the $980,000 budget estimation for maintenance as it becomes necessary.

The addition of appropriate information technology, meanwhile, is outlined in the School District No. 57 Strategic Plan 2016-2021. The implementation would include but not be limited to recommendations made by consultant George Couros, author of The Innovator's Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity (2015).

The request for funding, in the amount of $50,000 from an appropriation of surplus, comes from the Education Programs and Planning department of School District No. 57.

"I think technology-wise, we've got some catching up to do," Trustee Ron Polillo said during the April 30 board meeting. "It's one of the biggest things that I hear when I do the school visits, not only from staff but from the students as well. I really feel this is an important step to move on in that journey."

The third initiative – increasing the ability of elementary schools to deliver high-quality instruction in inclusive learning environments – was presented via video conference by Lisa Horswell, District Principal, Student Support Services, and Deb Kaban, District Principal, Learning Innovations.  The recommendation, put forward by the Education Programs and Planning Committee, was that the board of trustees approve an annual commitment of $350,000 for three years to realize the objective.

Achieving the goal would require hiring qualified personnel to offer additional behavioural support to children in need through staff development and training.

"(Currently we have) a philosophy or program based around a couple of people instead of it being a systematic, process-driven building approach and classroom approach to behaviour, and how to meet the needs of these complex learners in order to get to the behaviour so that they can further get to the learning," Horswell said. "Unless we get to the behaviour, we're not going to see improvement in the students' learning. What we see is a reactive and limited intervention process happening at our schools and it can result with students being on partial days, which is something that we don't want to see.

"We're seeing an increase in those students who are diagnosed with severe mental health issues and students with autism or suspected autism coming in in Kindergarten. We're seeing an increase of students on wait lists for psycho-educational assessments." Horswell added.

Bennett agreed there is a need for additional support for complex learners.

"We're hearing from our families and from our schools that there needs to be more support around mental health and around behavioural support, concerns that kids are not attending full days because we don't have the behavioural support in schools," he said. "We need to ensure that those resources are there at the school level to support children and families so that their kids are getting access to the quality public education system that we have in B.C."

Other items addressed during the April 30 board meeting included:

  • Approval of an update and refresh of the School District's long-range facility report;
  • Approval of a Capital Bylaw to move forward projects approved as part of the School Enhancement Program;
  • Approval of minor changes to Policy 1160 Role of the Board, and Policy 8230 Trustee Remuneration and Expenses;
  • A notice of motion (for the May 28 board meeting) from Trustee Trent Derrick to create an ad-hoc committee to advise on the implementation of Truth and Reconciliation Recommendations and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Upcoming meetings include: Education Services Committee, May 6, 2019; Policy and Governance Committee, May 7, 2019; Management and Finance Committee – Committee of the Whole, May 13, 2019; and Education Programs and Planning Committee, May 21, 2019.