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Smart Schools Commission hosts first public symposium

ALBANY – The Smart Schools Commission sponsored its first Public Symposium in Albany where technology and education experts presented innovative, successful approaches to school and community connectivity and technology-enabled education practices. The Smart Schools Commission is responsible for advising the State on how to best invest the Governor’s proposed $2 billion Smart Schools Bond Act in order to enhance teaching and learning through technology. The Governor proposed the Smart Schools initiative during his 2014 State of the State in order to reimagine New York’s public schools for the 21st Century.

"The Smart Schools Commission’s informational sessions are critical to understanding how new technology can transform the student experience and create the classrooms of tomorrow," said Governor Andrew Cuomo. "This Commission was established to help ensure the $2 billion Smart Schools Initiative is pursued creatively and responsibly. Today’s first public meeting will let us hear from community members and experts alike on how to best use this opportunity to help our students.”

During the Symposium, a panel of speakers fielded questions by Auburn School District Superintendent Constance Evelyn, New York State Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot and Senior Policy Advisor to the Governor Michael Laskawy. Evelyn is one of the three Smart Schools Commission members, in addition to Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman and Former CEO of Google, and Geoffrey Canada, President of Harlem Children’s Zone. The community is encouraged to submit additional input on the Smart Schools Commission website; its findings will be incorporated in a final report published later this year.

Symposium speakers were selected based on a diversity of geography, technology, expertise and experience and included:

  • David Salway, Director of the New York State Broadband Program Office. Salway has expanded the scope of the Broadband Program Office to include additional functions such as public outreach and coordination of the State’s Broadband Council activities. As the State’s single point of contact on all matters related to broadband, he has helped broadband project sponsors prepare grant applications for ARRA Broadband stimulus grant funding, and met with federal and State policy makers to advance and promote broadband issues, including infrastructure build-out and digital literacy efforts.
  • Dr. Ellen Meier, associate professor of practice, computing, and education and director of the Center for Technology and School Change at Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Meier also co-chairs the Regents' Council for Technology Policy and Practice for the State. During the last decade, she has developed a successful approach to help teachers integrate technology using a design process focused on essential questions. Dr. Meier's research examines how urban teachers use technology to promote student understanding through inquiry-based learning and policy work investigates the use of technology as a catalyst for school reform.
  • Dale Breault, assistant director with the Northeastern Regional Information Center (NERIC) of the Capital Region BOCES. Breault supervises the day-to-day operations of NERIC’s North Country offices, staff and services. Prior to joining the NERIC in 2013, Breault was the superintendent, business manager and CIO of the Chateaugay Central School District.
  • Thomas Phillips, Superintendent of the Watkins Glen Central School. Phillips has been a teacher and administrator in public education for the past 30 years and in his current role since 2006. Today, Phillips is heavily engaged in an initiative to integrate technology in to the instructional environment, creating a 21st century learning environment that addresses the issue of fairness and opportunity for all students.
  • Patterson Green, Superintendent of the Sharon Springs Central School District. Green has been a teacher and administrator in public education for the past 26 years and in his current role since 2007. Green's work focuses on balancing cost efficiency with integrating technology into the instructional environment with the intended result of the school providing comprehensive technological solutions.

The five experts highlighted to the Commission and community members the need and ability to: enrich the in-classroom learning experience by incorporating the use of tablets, laptops and smartphones; extend preparation for student instruction by using web-based software accessible at home, increase communication between the instructor and student's guardian; provide more descriptive academic progress reporting; and to support these changes, build a robust network of high-speed broadband and wi-fi connectivity throughout New York's public schools and communities. Challenges that the panel encouraged the Commission to address include the difficulty of providing broadband access to rural regions of Upstate New York and the initial implementation of new technology in the classroom.