Hi-Tech Classrooms with Low Budgets

by Bill Britt
The Latino Policy Connection

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School administrators who think limited budgets prevent them from putting the latest learning technology in their classrooms can learn a lesson or two – actually, three lessons – from Paul De La Cerda, a Southern California Latino Policy Center board member and a Trustee at the Saugus Union School District in Santa Clarita.

Back in 2008, Saugus Unified did something that’s still considered remarkable today. After receiving a federal grant to provide laptops to every 4th grader in the district, students’ test scores skyrocketed in just fourth months. Equally impressive was the new software that included a unique translation feature that let English language learners receive feedback and corrections in their native language.

“It’s never too early to introduce them to the technology they’ll be required to use in the workforce,” De La Cerda says. “As a career technical education administrator, I’m looking at how we’re using technology to support industry demand.”

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So, how do you get technology in classrooms when the B-word, “budget” seems to put a damper on those efforts? The answers lie in De La Cerda’s aforementioned three lessons; his 3-step plan for policymakers looking to bring classrooms into the 21st Century.

“Step one is to form a technology planning committee with administrators, parents and teachers, industry technology advisors, and definitely one or two school board members. It’s an inclusive approach that doesn’t fall on just one person to tackle the problem so the responsibility is shared by all the stakeholders.

“Step two, talk about where your technology stands right now, where you’d like it to be, and what you want to accomplish. This is where the budget plan comes in.” Instead of focusing on your current budget, De La Cerda suggests looking at the budget you need, and then “find ways to bring money in. Set up a strategy to look at grants or any other alternative funding like bond measures.”

De La Cerda’s Step Three: Schedule committee meetings on a regular basis to keep everyone updated on the latest learning technology and familiarize themselves with software that has proven to be effective in the classroom. “That way, the superintendent stays informed and the person designated as your Director of Technology will know his or her marching orders when the committee comes up with a plan.”

While the goal is getting cost effective and productive technology into classrooms, the challenge is finding ways to stay current. As De La Cerda points out, “I used the same textbooks my brother was reading five years ahead of me. If we hand down a laptop or iPad in 5 years, it’s obsolete.”

School administrators can get a jump-start on this entire process at the Summer 2015 Latino Policy Forum on June 6 at Cal State LA, which will feature a panel discussion titled, “21st Century Schools.”

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