Other school districts looking to Punxsy for technology tips

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Don't take the 21st Century Learning Initiative and One to One Computing for granted in the Punxsutawney Area School District — especially after seeing how some other, larger school districts don't have the advantage of a technology program like Punxsy’s.

"Back in 2006, when some of the current board members first voted in favor of ‘Classrooms For The Future,’ many of you never realized that this was going to turn into a model program for other districts in the state," Dr. Keith Wolfe, district superintendent, said at a recent Punxsutawney Area School Board committee meeting.

Dave London, PAHS principal, said the district has had a real advantage since it first began this initiative in 2006.

"One machine, one vision, one image — everyone has the same machine," London said. "We had a local effort that put together an infrastructure and technology training.

"It was all made possible due to great board cooperation," London said, adding that the computers were even distributed to the middle and elementary schools.

Gerald Gigliotti, director of Instructional Technology and technology coordinator, said that no one is using chalk anymore, right down to kindergarten classes in the Punxsy district.

London said he has attended numerous state conferences where all of the other districts know Punxsy and its reputation with technology.

Gigliotti said every student teacher that teaches in the PASD is loaned a laptop because they can't teach in the district without it.

Wolfe said both Blairsville and Saltsburg school districts visited the district recently to observe Punxsy runs a district based on technology.

"Yes, the $1 million grant made a big difference, but the work that goes into it is what makes it work," Wolfe said. "Every summer, Gerald and his crew reimage 1,200 laptop computers."

London said the computer skills that Punxsy students have acquired will be of use in their college studies and future careers.

Travis Monroe and Shari Weber, elementary principals, are often sought out for their opinions on technology in the elementary school classes, since there aren't many districts that are using technology at the elementary level, Gigliotti said.

"Many projects wouldn't get accomplished as quickly and easily if students didn't have their own laptops to use," he said.

Gigliotti said in the Read 180 program, it would be difficult to complete assignments if students could work on the assignment only at school and didn't have their own computers to take home.

London said this year, Riverview Intermediate Unit No. 6 in Clarion is using Punxsy's curriculum guide to create a cyber school using the same courses that PAHS students take.

"Now they choose from a buffet of different cyber schools and courses that students take," London said, adding that the administration is happy with the updated curriculum, which Rick Galuzzi, director of curriculum, has been working on.

When Wolfe was in Harrisburg, he said the legislature discussed cyber schooling, which costs approximately $10,000 per student.

"We are the only district doing our own e (online) academy," he said. "If a student attends our cyber school and for some reason it doesn't work out, then (he or she) can always come back and jump right back into classes."

London said a survey found students like the online version of most textbooks over the old hard-bound textbooks.

It's easier to transport a large literature textbook in a laptop than carrying that large book around, London said.

Gigliotti said teachers are also able to use digital video clips in place of the old video tapes and DVDs.

Teachers can show the exact clips that they need, and even share those clips with each other.

"A little bit of technology goes a long way," Gigliotti said. "A lot of good ideas come out of the summer technology camp that the district holds every year for teachers."

Gigliotti said district administrators are stewards of taxpayers' money, and 21st Century Learning and One to One Computing has profoundly changed the way teachers instruct students, all the way down to the elementary level.

He said leasing computers has been a much better option than purchasing them outright.

"That helps us to refresh our technology," Gigliotti said, adding that the computers are covered under warranty for the first four years of the lease.

The 2006 laptop computers are coming out of warranty at this time, Gigliotti said.

London said it begins to level out, and most of the repairs are being done on the four-, five- and six-year-old machines that are being used by the ninth-graders.

"More students are purchasing the insurance, as they discover they can't be without their laptops," London said, adding that the administration suggests that the district continue to lease instead of purchase computers.

Gigliotti said technology has gone in directions that he never thought he would see.

"There are teachers who began teaching back when I did who are now using technology in their classrooms that I never thought I would see use it," Gigliotti said.

London said such technological improvements never would have happened without the forward-thinking school board members.

Francis Molinaro, who chaired the recent meeting, said changes were made to improve the education for the students of the district.

Gigliotti said he'll present his technology budget for the next school year at a future board meeting.