West Ridge Middle School

Moderation and Trust with Technology

Superintendent's Message
Moderation and Trust with Technology

Dear Parents, Guardians & Staff,

First, on behalf of the children and staff, who each day make Eanes ISD a special place to spend a large part of the year, I again express our collective thanks to the community for approving the 2019 Bond. Over 80-percent of voting residents supported this referendum to maintain and improve facilities, upgrade student and staff safety, become more energy efficient, and enhance our facilities with an addition to the high school’s robotics facility, build a new wrestling space and construct a community aquatics center. Furthermore, the dollars approved will also allow us significant options as we better secure our networks and refresh our technologies. The school district’s responsibility for this last item compels me to provide some additional information.

Recently, you may have received information from some parents expressing valid questions about the use of technology (i.e. iPads) in our schools. While we share these concerns, it is also important for parents to understand the school district’s current approach to personal devices in the classroom and how we intend to chart our path forward.

Advice from My Mother
Often when faced with problems, I reflect back to the guidance my mom gave while I was growing up. Although she lived in a different age, some of the wisdom she imparted seems appropriate for our time.

When I only wanted to eat the “good stuff” on my plate or wanted to watch too many cartoons, she would echo the advice of her grandmother, saying, “Everything in moderation…too much ice cream will make you sick” or “Enough TV; get outside and play with your friends.”

And when I shared I was sure my second-grade teacher was evil for making me read and write too much, my mother, a first-grade teacher herself, assured me, stating, “Trust your parents and your teachers; they care for you and only want what is best for you.”  

With moderation and trust in mind, I firmly believe technology devices are both good and bad. Too much screen time is an issue. Accessing inappropriate content is something from which we all want to shield innocent eyes. And when a student inadvertently or deliberately accesses inappropriate content while on a district-issued device at school, we need to counsel that child, find out why and what happened, and do our best to ensure it cannot occur again.

Our Attention to Technology is Not New
This is not a new belief to our staff or to your trustees. Those who watched a video excerpt from our Back-to-School Staff Convocation in August 2018, know we empathize with the need for a thoughtful approach to using technology devices – both in our classrooms and in our personal lives.

Back-to-school convocation Video

In addition, throughout my State of the District presentations and later in our Bond information sessions beginning in the fall of 2018, we emphasized how 2019 Bond dollars will allow us to refresh and upgrade our technologies in the coming years. We have not yet determined if iPads at all grade levels will be that next device and are still considering whether we might opt for laptops at Westlake High School. Then and now, we remain open to a thorough analysis of whether we should continue to offer individual devices at certain early grade levels.

A Shared Responsibility
Personal technology is a tool and, as such, can enrich our lives as well as inhibit our social-emotional health. Our shared responsibility as parents and educators is to guide children so they can become responsible digital citizens. We should partner to help students learn when to use technology devices appropriately, whether they are viewing something safe or unseemly.

A teacher’s ability to individualize, personalize and differentiate learning has increased substantially with advances in technology. Meeting the special needs of some learners, at all grade levels, has made adaptive technologies especially important. Just as we have a better chance of finding a destination with Google Maps (rather than using the old paper ones no one could then refold), new digital learning tools can enrich our learning capacity. My staff has compiled a list of some of why technology is especially integral to K-5 instruction today in ways that were once not possible using only print materials.

No Firewall or Web Filter is Failsafe
At the same time, as I stated earlier, we are not oblivious to the negative aspects of personal devices. While we deploy the latest filters and safeguards to protect the learning environment from inappropriate material, experts tell us there are over half-a-million new websites introduced worldwide every day. We do not know of a completely failsafe Internet firewall or Web filter that provides 100-percent protection. If one exists, every school district like Eanes ISD would line up to enlist its services.

Like all good organizations, when we find a problem, we seek a solution. As technology advances, new options become available to enhance safety and monitor for meaningful classroom use. To that end, my staff is partnering with experts in the field and has compiled a list of technology safeguards we are currently improving and other options we are considering.

Trusting Our Teachers
These changes and considerations, with a focus on mindful and intentional use of technology devices, provide the opportunity for continuous improvement. Thanks to the passage of the 2019 Bond, we can envision a future refresh and selective deployment of current devices.

For now, we need to trust our teachers to use the tools they have to enhance learning, when appropriate and in moderation. Even with our best efforts, if a student intentionally tries and gains access to mature online content, we need to understand and be accountable for how it happened, provide proper counseling and, in some cases, deliver age-appropriate consequences.

We are not in a position to rapidly eliminate the good aspects of a technology curriculum just because of a few regrettable or bad occurrences. Could we one day reinstitute a device- or Internet-free experience for our students? Possibly; but we would need to proceed carefully by preparing our staff, purchasing and replacing costly curriculum materials, and fully understand what will be gained and what will be lost by doing so.

Thank You for Your Support
Once again, thank you for your continuing support of our staff and our schools. We appreciate your help as we navigate a rapidly changing world with technology devices. Together, we are able to ensure students remain healthy and safe, while also equipping them with the learning tools and self-disciplines for future success.

Dr. Tom Leonard

Dr. Tom Leonard, Superintendent of Schools | tleonard@eanesisd.net
Eanes Independent School District, 601 Camp Craft Road, Austin, Texas 78746