St. James schools continue to lead the state in technology

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 29, 2012

By David Vitrano


LUTCHER – The St. James Parish Public School System is keeping its eyes fixed firmly on the future as it continues to be one of the leading districts in the state in terms of technology use.

Technology Director Robert Logan addressed the school board recently and outlined some of the initiatives that have been implemented or improved in the past five years.

“We’ve had some drastic change,” said Logan.

He noted that in 2007, Internet speeds and networking abilities in the parish were much slower and less powerful than they are in 2012. Also, five years ago the district did have some laptops for student use, but they were kept in carts and wheeled into classrooms when necessary. Additionally, classrooms generally came equipped with only traditional chalkboards or dry erase boards.

In contrast, classrooms are now equipped with interactive smartboards, which encourage student participation by getting them actively involved. Also Internet speed and connectivity has dramatically increased in the district, parents, teachers and students can all stay virtually connected through software such as Powerschool, Parent Portal and Moodle.

The district has recently spent $2 million on network upgrades and is now moving toward virtualized servers, even more integrated software applications and digital textbooks.

But perhaps the district’s greatest achievement is its 1-to-1 Laptop Program. The program, which now includes all students from seventh through 12th grades, ensures those students a personal laptop with which he or she can use to do homework or research.

“1-to-1 has been a tremendous program,” said Logan. “Once we got into the fray, other districts started jumping in.”

Not only has the program been a success, but it has recently ramped up its efforts, handing out two rounds of computers this year as opposed to the single grade level covered in years past. Logan said at this rate, the program will cover elementary students soon, but those in charge may have other options to consider in the meantime. The program has now reached an age that some of the original laptops will be due for an upgrade, but the district must now consider what format their replacements will take.

When the program started, laptops were the most practical and cutting edge solution. Now in2012, with the ever-rising popularity of tablet devices and smartphones, the means through which the program is conducted may have to change.

“That’s an exciting opportunity,” said Logan.

These initiatives have placed the St. James Parish school district in rarified company as one of just five districts in the state that met minimum device readiness and just one of two districts that meet both device and network readiness guidelines.

And on the horizon is a change to the phone system that will allow parent to dial teachers directly. While teachers will not be reachable while they are in the classroom, messages left will automatically be sent to the teachers as emails.

“it’s a whole different way to do phones,” said Superintendent Alonzo Luce.

Of course, the accolades and advancements are worthy for their own sakes, but the real goal of these changes is to improve the educational environment for the district’s students. Luce pointed out that as a result of the technology initiative, students in St. James are being prepared from a young age to use computerized assessment tools, which are increasingly the norm in modern learning institutions.