by Abbi Berry and Sam Zukin
PR Manager and National Editor
Days before the 2016-2017 school year ended, Assistant Principal Kevin Rogers informed the LGHS World Language teachers that the district would be discontinuing the New Millennium Foundation-funded computer lab in an effort to free up a classroom for the coming school year. The language teachers had little time to process the news; they followed up by emailing the administration, but the communication proved difficult with finals underway and summer vacation approaching. The district defended the decision by saying that Los Gatos Saratoga Union High School District (LGSUHSD) planned to replace all standing labs with mobile laptop carts.
The World Languages’ PC lab came into use in 2015 after the teachers requested a 44,825 dollar grant from the NMF, according to Grant Chair Kelly Brezoczky. Although the department only used the lab for two years, it became a vital and effective tool for students to use for language practice and research. Department Chair of World Languages Dominic Calmels noted: “[it was a] place to work together collaboratively” for all classes and “as a department [the lab] was heavily utilized.” The AP language classes could prepare for the listening comprehension requirement and the lower levels practiced a variety of skills.
Japanese teacher Ann Jordan was frustrated that the district-funded Chromebooks would not fulfill the requirements to properly prepare students for the AP Japanese exam. She discussed the necessities: “the hardware requirements are very specific and [the computers] have to have this kind of processing capability.” The district worked to alleviate the issue by purchasing more laptop carts for the department, including two Lenovo ThinkPad PC carts that meet the College Board AP standards. However, the troublesome laptop carts have proven to be a less useful substitution over the standing lab.
The new laptops have several technological issues and waste valuable instructional time when students have to put the laptops away. “It’s annoying,” senior Iris Jimenez states, “I am worried about the AP [Japanese] test. My laptop crashed today; what if this happened during the test?” Although the administration and district worked to replace the lab, the extenuating circumstances present prevented those making the decisions from solving the possible problems that could arise from using laptop carts.
The problems arose from a lack of communication between all parties involved; however, this communication issue is due to several occurrences. According to LGHS Principal Kristi Grasty, the district lost both its Chief Business Officer and the Purchasing Director who helped to implement laptops before the 2017-2018 school year. The IT Department for the district had a complete overhaul over the summer, during which it hired Tony Palma as the Administrator of IT and Career and Technical Education. This convoluted the process of ensuring the successful implementation of laptops as the lack of a leadership position prevented the means and strategy of fulfilling these obligations. Additionally, Sandra Plyler, last year’s Language Department Chair, retired over the summer. These events created the perfect storm that stymied the organization and implementation of the laptops. Unfortunately, the misguided and poorly executed transition to the laptop carts burdened the students. Students rely on the faculty from both LGHS and LGSUHSD to ensure a conducive learning environment where their decisions won’t negatively impact the students’ educational experiences.
As a public school, the administration has a responsibility to ensure that every student has a space to learn; this means that sometimes the school has to cut labs in order to create classroom space. The process of assigning courses to students and choosing the rooms where they learn is intricate and arduous. Grasty acknowledged the miscommunication and lack of organization: “I can empathize completely [with the fact that] you [had] a lab where you could go in and it was ready to go. Now you have to get used to having a cart.” She explained that the unfairness lay in the decision being made without the input of the stakeholders: the students and teachers. However, due to last-minute changes in faculty and no member of the district stepping up to head the transition, things fell apart. Brezoczky highlights that the role of the district when it comes to technology is that “when they commit something to the high school, there really needs to be implementation.” She recognizes that due to all the position changing, the fault cannot fall onto a single party.
Although later than promised, the district did provide 90 new laptops to LGHS and made an effort to provide AP-compatible resources. Palma admits the transition could have been smoother and issues with the lack of computers could have been prevented, but he wants to move on to create a stronger environment for students. He states: “There’s a lot of opportunity for learning and a lot of training for development.” Grasty agrees that there needs to be further implementation and even suggests a possible route for technology experts to come into classes.
The decision to remove the world language lab let both teachers and students down when they returned to the new school year with laptops that weren’t initially compatible with their AP tests, but the blame shouldn’t fall on any one person or group. As administrators of LGHS, Grasty and staff members worked to schedule classroom space, and when there was a need for another classroom, the lab took the hit. Palma was tasked with replacing the facility with a mobile cart; he did not make the final decision. With other staff leaving and faculty coming in and out of positions, there was no single entity to confirm a follow through. But, even as the student body continues to grow, the administration must effectively communicate and execute the necessary compromises that will affect the teachers and students.
The only viable solution is that the district, LGHS administrators, and teachers take preventative measures to ensure this lack of communication does not happen again. Although the community should recognize the growing pressure the administration faces with an increasing student body, students and teachers need to be guaranteed that a drastic change will not be made without their input first.
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