MHS Technology Coach Shares Insight on District’s Tech Issues

Photo by Rachel Steinberger: Mr. Sammartano, technology coach at MHS.

In the previous issue of the Globe, some MHS students expressed discontent with the school’s new technology initiatives, such as the major switch to Google Classroom, as well as already wellestablished practices like the use of a web-filter in the school’s network. Technology coach Michael Sammartano commented on this as well as the IT department’s efforts to resolve some of the issues. He shared the reasoning behind some of the administration’s major decisions this year.

Mr. Sammartano’s role in the district includes helping teachers learn how to use technology and being the man behind the district’s technology budgeting, planning, and major decisions. “I was a big part of the Google movement,” exclaimed Mr. Sammartano. He explained that the choice to switch to Google Classroom was not a quick or easy one. On the contrary, a great deal of thought was made by many school administrators before the service was finally approved.

The transition was not only to Google Classroom, but to Google as a service for the whole district. Prior to this year, MHS had used the company eChalk for their services. The company was responsible for the design of the district website and the pages students could log into to view homework and class schedules. Although eChalk had its benefits, it was quite expensive. Recently, the company announced that they were releasing a brand new version of the software, which would have required the district to essentially start from scratch, meaning training teachers all over again and creating new websites and an entirely new system. “We took that as an opportunity to say, ‘Okay, since we have to start over anyway, let’s re-evaluate, and let’s make sure that this is the tool we want to use going forward,” states Mr. Sammartano.

Part of this reevaluation process included meeting with teachers to test out a variety of tools. Mr. Sammartano, Ms. Dancy, a technology coach for the elementary schools, and the IT department had dozens of educators try out various programs, including Schoology, Showbie, and Edmodo. After soliciting responses and feedback from both teachers and students, Mr. Sammartano’s team decided to go with Google Classroom. “The most important thing was that teachers saw real potential in it,” says Sammartano. “It allows for more than just being an online planner. You’re not just going online and saying, ‘okay, there’s a test tomorrow and a test next week.’ It allows you to collaborate with your classmates, it allows for all of your content to be up in the cloud and to be online. It allows for easy sharing and communication.”

Mr. Sammartano admits that Google Classroom may not be the perfect tool, as it is implausible for it not to have challenges. However, he truly believes that it has great potential in the long run. “We are pretty dedicated to it; it’s something that they’re actively building. So it’s getting better literally every month.”

Although Google Classroom seems to be a flexible tool still in the developing stages, other aspects of technology in MHS are quite dated and don’t show any signs of change or alteration. The most conspicuous of these is the web filter, a legally required software which blocks certain online content deemed inappropriate for high school audiences. Naturally, a great amount of students are frustrated by the restrictions, feeling unjustly blocked from websites that do in fact contain educational material. On this matter, Mr. Sammartano sympathizes with the student body, but asks for understanding.

“This is an eternally challenging question for school districts in particular. Our first and foremost responsibility is to keep children safe and prevent them from being exposed to things they shouldn’t be exposed to,” he explains. By law, the school district is forced to have a web filter, so there isn’t much of an option or choice for the school regarding its existence. The problem then becomes what the web filter blocks. Mr. Sammartano admits that the software isn’t ideal, because so many things can trigger the filter to block a website: “Just a keyword, a little piece of data in the code of a website, can result in sites that clearly have educational value being filtered out, while sites that might be inappropriate sneak through the filter.” Mr. Sammartano encourages students and teachers who are trying to access a blocked resource that they feel is educationally appropriate and relevant, to notify him or another teacher or IT staff member, so they can then manually open up the site. Although this may seem like a frustrating situation, Mr. Sammartano notes that he would like students to know that the school administration is not using a web filter because it is a control freak and wants to “lock everything down.” Mr. Sammartano emphasizes that it is with the students’ best interest in mind. “We want to be able to work with students and staff to create the best experience we can,” he affirms.

As technology continues to develop, there seems to be a growing divide between students’ ideal technology incorporation in school and that of teachers and staff. For one, students are becoming more exposed to new innovative technology at home, making the iPads and software used in school seemingly outdated. As the administration rushes to keep up with the fast-paced changes in the technology world, a lot of changes have been made, some of which were welcomed by students, others not quite. Mr. Sammartano urges students to know that they are on the same side as the administration.

“We’re not trying to be in control of everything. We want students to have the opportunity to learn the way they want to learn and have access to what they need to have access to learn,” he claims. However, he asks for compromise in order to maintain a balance in the school.

“Students also need to understand the constraints that the administration feels, which is again, safety and security, cost, managing the sheer numbers, and so it’s best if we can, instead of kind of fighting with each other, work together.”

The best way to move forward, according to Mr. Sammartano, is to come up with solutions together.

By Emma Kaneti

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