GUSD lacks tech access

Students in Elizabeth Dirks’ (standing at left) Gilroy High

Gilroy
– Students in Gilroy schools have less access to computers than
the average school in Santa Clara County, and district staff, not
surprisingly, blame the budget.
Gilroy – Students in Gilroy schools have less access to computers than the average school in Santa Clara County, and district staff, not surprisingly, blame the budget.

Even if new computers could be purchased, the district’s current information technology staff couldn’t possibly supply all of the necessary teacher training and maintenance to make the computers most effective.

This school year, an average of 5.2 elementary school students in Gilroy share one computer, compared to an average of 3.8 students in the county. In Gilroy middle schools, an average of five students share one computer, compared to 4.8 students in the county. And at Gilroy High School, an average of 3.9 students share one computer, compared to the county’s 3.4 students.

The target ratio for GUSD is four students to a computer, said Rob van Herk, the district’s information technology manager. That comes out to between four and eight computers in each classroom plus one computer lab per school.

“That’s just not sustainable. We would need $600,000 per year for that,” van Herk said. The budget for the district’s technology department is $500,000 for the next 25 years.

Over the summer, the district took its first major stab at getting more technology into classrooms by purchasing more than 300 computers for teachers districtwide. The new computers are not for student use, however, but to assist teachers in grading, planning and Internet activity and research.

Before the purchase, about 70 percent of teachers didn’t have a working, aptly equipped computer at their desks, van Herk said.

The biggest recent student technology purchase in the district was two computer labs with between 40 and 50 computers at the high school as part of the modernization project.

Last spring, the district received $354,000 from a competitive federal grant called Enhancing Education Through Technology.

The money purchased four computers in each of the math classes at Brownell and South Valley middle schools and also helped train teachers.

Gilroy’s third middle school, Ascension Solorsano, opened in 2003 and was built with between four and eight new computers in each of the classrooms.

“What we saw with that grant was that teachers weren’t really aware of what they can do with technology,” van Herk said. “But when they do become aware of it, you see their eyes light up. I’m very hopeful that we will see the results of that in our test scores. But in order to do that, they need computers, they need projectors. I wish we could do that across the board, in all schools.”

Applying for grants, although potentially rewarding, is time consuming and lengthy, van Herk said. The process of applying for the EETT grant took a conservative estimate of between 40 and 80 hours.

“It’s a huge investment and absolutely no guarantee of getting it,” van Herk said.

He added he is confident in the efforts of OpenGATE, a group of about 30 parents whose children and students are in the Gifted And Talented Education program.

The group, which this week filed with the state to become a non-profit organization, will work on behalf of teachers to secure grants for GATE-targeted programs in GUSD, which could include grants for technology.

Other than the high school and middle school purchases, van Herk said very few technology improvements have been made in the district, and most of the other computers are outdated.

The most recent student-to-computer averages from the previous school year were a slight improvement over the 2002-03 year, with 5.5 elementary school students, 6.4 middle school students and 4.2 high school students sharing one computer in Gilroy.

The county average was also a bit higher, with 4.9 elementary school students, 5.6 middle school students and 3.8 high school students sharing one computer.

Enrollment in GUSD has gone up a total 175 students over the past five years, from 9,516 in 2000-01 to 9,691 in 2003-04.

GUSD fared slightly better compared to the average school in California, in which 5.5 elementary school, 5.5 middle school and 4.2 high school students shared one computer.

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