Gilpin County School Board discusses technology needs

Tech expert provides advice on future direction

By Patty Unruh

The Board of Education of Gilpin County School met March 4. Members attending were President Craig Holmes, Brook Ramsey, Charlotte Taylor, Kersten Armstrong, and Rusty Hardy. Also attending was Interim Superintendent Morris Ververs. The board met in executive sessions before and after the public portion of the meeting.

New Superintendent

At the Board’s February 19 meeting, the members approved offering David MacKenzie a three-year contract as new superintendent with a yearly salary of $105,000. MacKenzie accepted that offer and will begin April 1. The Board approved his contract at the March 4 meeting.

Report on Technology

Ververs said that technology expert Dr. Dan Maas was at the school the previous week to interview the school’s technology team and principals, and the Board discussed his recommendations. Maas came to perform an overview of Gilpin’s technology infrastructure and to give them feedback on improvements they could make. Maas recommended having a committee to make decisions on needed technology. He suggested that the committee include students and parents.

So far, Ververs stated, the school has purchased technology in a somewhat scattershot approach, and Maas advised that they need a cohesive plan and should add technology that fits in with what they currently have. Holmes noted that previously the school had obtained technology based on what looked good at the time. “A few years ago, we had thought that smart boards were the thing,” he said, “but now it seems they’re a dead animal.”

An important key, Ververs told the Board, is staff development, as staff members vary on their technological skill. The Board discussed that one duty of the new superintendent will be to approve any new technology.

Taylor suggested that technology needs differ between the elementary, middle school, and high school and said a concerted effort should be made to solicit student input at all levels. Ververs agreed, noting that “kids are tuned in to technology.” Maas had advised that the school should look at technology as belonging to the students, not just to the teachers and staff.

Taylor asked whether the students’ personal equipment could be integrated into the school’s IT (information technology) equipment. “We could save money on equipment that we won’t have to buy,” she suggested. Holmes explained that the issue with that is limitation of the school’s band-width system. Ververs added that it is now possible to download from the Internet any software desired, and Board members agreed, saying that the school’s investment should be in hardware rather than software.

Maas had reported that the school has many computers for its student population. The school has 257 computers, Ververs stated, and several of them have low usage. The school needs to assess what percentage of the day the computers are being utilized.

Panic Button

The board again discussed installation of a panic button emergency notification system. Several weeks ago, Ververs had received a proposal from SecureTech Systems, Inc. for their WAVE System. SecureTech is the same vendor that put in a system at the Gilpin County Sheriff’s Department. The proposal for the school is $9,350. Ververs’ opinion was that there was no way around the expense of such a system. However, the cost would be for an entire system, not just one unit for one staff member.

“We want a full-time sheriff and panic button,” Ververs related, but suggested waiting on the panic button system until the Board meets with the County Commissioners in April to talk about the issue.

Taylor noted that the school has several points of entry and felt that panic buttons were needed. Holmes put in that he couldn’t see approving the panic button with only one bid, and Armstrong advised that the school should get the right button. “You can touch a button accidentally and they go off,” she stated. “Get one that you actually have to push on, not just bump.” Holmes noted that at his workplace, every employee wears a pendant with a button and suggested that this could be a feature the school looks at in subsequent bids. With a pendant, he said, a staff member would not even have to be at their station to push a button. He will get the names of other vendors for a future meeting.

Natural Gas Update

The school district had natural gas installed ten to 15 years ago through Colorado Natural Gas (CNG). Since that time, it has cost the school about $60,000 per year for gas transportation; a large portion of that cost is the pipeline. The district is exploring ways to save money on gas and has been talking with various gas vendors, including Leveton & Associates independent natural gas distributors. The district is considering whether to use Leveton’s services. Leveton asserts that if the district switches to Leveton’s Tiger Natural Gas “transport gas” program, the district would save an estimated $10,000 per year. The gas would continue to be delivered by CNG, and CNG would continue to be responsible for service and maintenance.

Superintendent’s Report

Ververs reported on a planning meeting that was held March 3 for the Mt. Evans BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services). The purpose of the meeting was to find a way to improve special education services to students. It was agreed that a coordinator needed to be hired to monitor and support on-site services and that a staff development program for special education personnel needed to be conducted. The plan will be provided in detail at the next BOCES meeting in April.

Ververs also provided the Board with a handout on the potential rewrite of Colorado’s School Finance Act, which is one of the most important legislative issues facing Rural Caucus members. It may be a divisive issue, as the possible distribution of new resources varies from one district to the next. The intention of the handout is to update schools on Senator Mike Johnston’s school finance bill. The report said, “One foundational viewpoint is constant – everyone involved in this initiative is trying to do what is best to meet the needs of all students in Colorado.” The legislative Steering Committee members will be looking at the bill from a legal standpoint, a policy perspective, and a political point of view.

Congratulations and Celebrations

During congratulations and celebrations, Ververs circulated a photo of the sixth grade students who had attended a meeting of the Rotary Club recently. The students were at the meeting to read persuasive business letters they had written asking for support from the Rotarians for their upcoming outdoor education trip to Estes Park in May. They had been assigned to write the letters as a contest; the winning students were then given the opportunity to meet with the Rotary Club. Ververs said all the students showed great composure as they read their letters and that they handled themselves well.

Holmes acknowledged a great basketball season for the high school boys’ and girls’ teams.

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