How has your school financed its technology initiatives?
Excellence and innovation are cornerstones of Westside, so its board embraced proposals for certified staff laptops in 2001, high school one-to-one laptops in 2004, and a student and staff laptop refresh in 2007. Each initiative was funded by property tax dollars. Minimal e-Rate and grant dollars fund less than 1 percent of our technology budget. e-Rate dollars buy connectivity, while grant dollars support pilots of technology resources.
Westside is located in a mixed socioeconomic residential area surrounded by thriving commercial developments. Though the property tax base grew steadily for years, in 1998 Nebraska capped the maximum property tax levy at $1.10, with the cap decreasing to $1.00 in 2001. Levy caps do not apply to levies paying off bonds or lease-purchase agreements, and voters can override the limits for up to five years. In 1998, 2003, and 2008, Westside taxpayers overrode the levy cap and approved an additional $.10 of budget authority over five years. In 2010-11, technology leaders delayed a second laptop refresh and used good in-house technology support and repair services to weather out the worst of the recession while they revised the technology integration plan in light of new technology options, budget parameters, and an upcoming levy override election.
What initiative are you most proud of, and why?
As early as the 1960s, the district’s vision led to a modular schedule that lets WHS control time as needed to best serve learners. A $28 million renovation between 1998 and 2000 yielded a state-of-the-art, technology-rich facility. The 2004 one-to-one laptop initiative for students meshed with the modular schedule and building to create a learning environment that is not bound by bricks and mortar.
WHS was the first public school in the state—and among the first in the nation—to provide laptops for all teachers and students, to provide wireless connectivity throughout the building, and to expect innovative teachers and students to harness the powerful hardware, software, and network resources as tools for teaching and learning. Skilled district and building leaders focused professional development on building teachers’ skills in effective instruction, knowing that technology is an amplifier. If good teaching occurs, technology amplifies it. If good learning occurs, technology amplifies it.
WHS was among the first group of schools in the nation to be recognized as an Apple Distinguished School. This year, WHS was recognized again for the fourth consecutive year.
What have been your biggest ed-tech challenges, and why? How have you overcome those challenges?
Technology integration presents challenges. One primary challenge is financial. Despite the worst recession in decades and shrinking budgets, Westside remains committed to keeping technology integration off the cutting board because it is one of the things that make us uniquely what we are.