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Nevis teacher survey questions need for iPad purchase

Nevis School

Nevis School's proposal to provide students with individual computers has spurred a survey of teachers and staff on the subject, 62 percent of the 39 staff members responding reportedly indicating they are "not in favor of the Nevis iPad initiative."

"This information is worthy of serious consideration," said elementary Reading Recovery teacher Shelly Mahowald, who drafted and conducted the survey.

In November, district voters approved an operating levy, but said no to a technology levy that would have provided every Nevis student in grades 4 or 5 through 12 with a computer - an iPad or prototype - to be used for nearly all subjects.

Subsequently, superintendent Steve Rassier sought other sources of funding for technology and discussion on its implementation has continued.

"The community said no, now you're pushing it," Mahowald said.

According to the survey, 80 percent of the staff responding was not in favor of the initiative for the 2012-13 academic year, nor pursuing an interest-free loan to finance computers.

"There is a big disconnect between what you think and what the community believes," Mahowald said.

"A number of people are gung ho for this," board chair Ed Becker told her. "A lot stopped me saying, 'full speed ahead.'"

Mahowald cited current district needs that are allegedly going unmet, including "first grade teachers without science curriculum" and teachers being "denied professional development opportunities."

The administration indicated this is not correct.

"I implore you to look at the synopsis of the results," Mahowald said of pages of "opinions" she included with the survey.

Among the responses were suggestions to "spend money on the facility."

"Students will abuse this privilege."

"Teachers need time to learn how to use any device before the students get their hands on it."

"Observing technology classes...showed me that students are doing everything and anything under the sun rather than mastering the information presented."

"Too much money...not enough information."

"The voters turned it down. You will have lost trust with them for future years."

But many of those replying to the survey expressed positive opinions, and urged moving ahead, albeit slowly.

"The positives of this initiative far outweigh any negatives," one of the survey respondents said.

Principal John Strom questioned the source of the survey, which Mahowald wrote.

"You don't know who answered the questions?" he asked.

"I can tell you the majority of responses were from teachers," Mahowald said.

"I'm not sure you can say that," Strom said. "We have a tech committee representing the whole building and I never heard a single word... They are in full support."

Strom cited a district policy in place since 1996 stating, "electronic information skills are fundamental."

"It was not only true then, it's 10 times more now," he said. "I have lots of problems with this survey. I'm not sure it would pass the validity test, to present this as how the staff thinks."

Becker explained if the district receives funding, "we will stop putting money into old computers."

Computers "are an incredible learning tool," he said. "Our strategic plan was set up using community input."

He said an informal survey he conducted among students showed 80 percent in favor of the iPads.

Andy Lindow expressed concerns he's raised in the past. "The question is yet to be answered, will this improve education? Where is the data to prove this?"

"You would be hurting the students by not implementing this," activities director Bryan Wormley said.

"I think it's coming," elementary teacher Paul Schroeder told the board. "If you took away Study Island, if it was just text books, the kids would suffer."

In other action, the board:

n Approved the 2011-12 and 2012-13 teacher contract with salary increases of 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively, along with a single health insurance policy.

n Approved refunding the district's $1.9 million bond, providing a potential savings of $41,565 to the district. The bond sale will be in September, reductions in the levy to begin in 2013.

n Approved a retirement assistance program that will be offered to teachers employed by the district for at least seven consecutive years.

Applicants who are accepted will receive an amount equal to 45 percent of a year's teaching salary that is paid into a health care savings plan over a five-year period.

Two years ago, the district made a "more lucrative" offer of 65 percent to teachers because of impending layoffs.

"I think there is interest among teachers," Becker said, noting the district would realize a potential savings of $40,000 if two or three teachers opt to take it.

n Approved an overnight trip to Duluth for the robotics team to compete at the regional level March 7-10.

Advisor Rusty Uscola predicts the team will "do well" based on practice sessions.

n Accepted the resignation of finance bookkeeper Rebecca Scraper and the hiring of Tammi Hofmeister at a salary of $17 an hour.

n Approved the 2012-13 school calendar.

n Reported new mandatory courses to be offered next year are freshmen art and history for juniors, both half-credit courses, and general chemistry for grades 11 and 12, a one-credit course. Elective courses added are Microsoft Office Specialist and college literature through Southwest State University, half-credit courses.

Strom said registration by computer will begin ASAP.