Town resident criticizes school's computer program

NORTH CANAAN — An unexpected critique of a portion of the school curriculum, and the town in general, was the second order of business at the Nov. 12 Board of Education meeting.

The first was to elect new officers. Elections this month found former chair Martha Scott retired from the board, and only one new member. The new chair is Dolores Perotti. Vice chair is Richard Greco. Beth McGuire was elected secretary.

 During the public comment portion, resident Sheila Scott said the school and town are “behind the times.â€

It was unclear if Scott was aware of the extent of technology available to students at North Canaan Elementary School (NCES). But she opened her comments by calling NCES students “computer illiterate†and said they are not provided with skills they will need to be competitive.

Are computers up to date?

Scott said she recently returned to North Canaan after 45 years, and is shocked by how behind the times the town is.

She said she was appalled by the local library and the lack of timely information on the town Web site.

Principal Rosemary Keilty invited Scott to take a tour during a school day to see technology in use.

“We have a great number of computers, including a computer lab and three carts of laptops that get a lot of use in the classrooms,†Keilty said. “Students start computer lab in first grade.â€

Scott asked if the school takes advantage of free software.

Keilty said they found free software to be lacking.

“In order to be competitive, as you say, the purchased software is much better,†Keilty said.

New board member Karen Riccardelli opened a discussion about computer and Internet access students have, or don’t have, at home. She suggested NCES consider a program similar to one at Kent Center School, where laptops were donated for the use of a portion of students. She also noted that financial constraints prevent laptops from being updated and repaired.

Riccardelli also said that families who cannot afford Internet access could find spots in their home where a neighbor’s wireless network could provide access, as she does in her own home.

The comment prompted board member Susan Warner to ask if that was legal.

Keilty said the school will soon know exactly how many families have Internet access when the school’s Web site goes “live†Nov. 24. In an effort to save paper and the expense of printing, notices will be e-mailed to parents. Those without e-mail will have to notify the school in order to continue to receive hard copies.

Chairman Perotti said the school employs a full-time computer teacher who stays on top of the technological needs of the students.

The school has a long-range technology plan, designed to optimize the considerable portion of the annual budget spent on acquiring new technology and products and maintenance.

Viruses (not in computers)

Parents and community members can also find at updates on the flu and H1N1. There has been one confirmed case of HINI at NCES.

Keilty said absences are currently about 22 per day for 331 students. That is only slightly higher than at this time last year, although it has been as high as 14 percent, or about 40 students.

Absences show spikes in various grades, which is typical when the cause is mostly a highly infectious illness. Hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes are provided to classrooms, the building is thoroughly cleaned every night and hand washing is stressed. Students and staff are urged to stay home when exhibiting symptoms.

Superintendent Patricia Chamberlain reported the Region One central office has been very short-staffed due to illness, but they do not intend to close unless absolutely necessary.

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