Consultant: Southold schools in need of technology upgrade

JULIE LANE PHOTO | International education consultant Ian Jukes told the Southold Board of Education last Thursday that a lot of work will be needed to bring the district’s technology program up to par.

The Southold school board and school administrators received a less than stellar grade from international education consultant Ian Jukes last week.

As a favor to his friend, Superintendent David Gamberg, Mr. Jukes examined the school’s use of technology and pronounced it sorely lacking.

“Radical changes are needed,” Mr. Jukes said at last Thursday’s school board meeting. “I’m not here to tell you have got spend a lot of money.” Nor is Mr. Jukes recommending technology for its own sake.

“You’re doing a great job of preparing kids for 1950,” he said, adding that the district has technology in place “that’s older than some of the kids.”

Mr. Jukes, who has been a teacher, administrator, consultant, writer and speaker throughout the world, conducted some 40 interviews with Southold teachers and administrators and concluded that technology there is “badly underutilized.” Many teachers lack the skills to effectively employ technology, not because they can’t use computers, he said, but because they’re “overwhelmed” and aren’t trained to use technology effectively with their students.

The failure to address staff frustrations is likely to result in “serious resignations.” Mr. Jukes warned.

“You are badly under-served by the personnel you have,” he said. Although he doesn’t blame the district’s technology staff, he said they don’t have the support to do anything more than “make things up as they go. I see arbitrary decisions being made.”

Mr. Jukes noted that access to computers is limited, especially at the junior and senior high school levels. Ironically, technology is being better employed at the elementary school level, he said.  But he concluded that Smart Boards, electronic whiteboards meant to enhance instruction, are being used as little more than “expensive blackboards.”

“Particularly at the secondary level, your Internet is a mess,” the consultant said. “Arbitrary” decisions are being made by one or a very few people about what sites students can access, he said. Frustrated, students take their research needs out of school. Southold is also one of the rare districts where students don’t have in-school email accounts, Mr. Jukes said.

Mr. Gamberg said he doesn’t want to be defensive, but thinks his district is no worse in its use of technology than neighboring districts.

That may be the case, Mr. Jukes acknowledged, not having examined the other districts. But based on 250 districts he has assessed in various states including New York, Southold’s use of technology is the worst, he said.

Before spending a penny, the district needs to develop a collective vision of how technology can most effectively be employed, Mr. Jukes said. It takes enlisting a group of educators, administrators, parents and other community members to identify a cohesive plan for technology use, he said.

“This is about adjusting what you do,” Mr. Jukes said. Otherwise money is being spent “at cross purposes and you’re wasting it.”

Said Mr. Gamberg, “One of the concepts of greatness is facing the brutal facts,” said Mr. Gamberg. He described his friend as “a provocateur” and said that his assessment may be difficult to hear, “I see it as a tremendous opportunity.”

While many taxpayers view technology as a luxury, they have to be convinced it’s a necessity, Mr. Gamberg said.

“There are things that can be done without buying a Cadillac,” he said.

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