Technology, facilities, and the future of Crook County schools

Volunteers, school officials working toward a long-range facility plan

by:  - Steve Swisher is the superintendent of the Crook County School District. He can be reached at:    <span id=This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." title="by: - Steve Swisher is the superintendent of the Crook County School District. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." class="caption" width="220" />

The school board has been working hard over the last couple of years to review the operations of the district and then focusing on what they would like to improve. Part of this process included setting specific goals for academic achievement and a facility plan to provide adequate space, along with appropriate furnishings and equipment, to support the instructional and co-curricular programs for the students in our schools.
   One area of need is the constantly changing state of our instructional technology. Today this includes computers, presentation boards (we used to call them chalk boards, but most of them are now white and use dry erase pens), overhead viewers, and communication networks (internet, video networks, voice-over internet phone systems, etc.). Libraries, as an information source in communities and schools, are starting to look more like a thing that is accessed from anywhere with a portable computing devices, super cellular phones, and miniature video players on the networks as opposed to a place where you go to pick up a book or periodical for class research.
   Most of this technology change at the school and classroom level has occurred in the last 10 years. Technological advances are occurring at a dizzying pace and new products coming on the market daily to take advantage of this new information age are cheaper and more reliable than the product sold the week before. It is hard to imagine the advances that will be in place just five years from now; however, we have to prepare our students for this world. Of course many students are already ahead of their parents (and teachers) in this world of technology.
   We have just received a grant originating from Intel to be a pilot school district where each of our sixth grade students will receive a portable computing device. The grant also provides for teacher training to effectively use this tool in classroom instructional strategies. The pilot is starting with the current sixth grade class at Powell Butte this year and we are looking to continue this with all sixth grade classes next year located at the middle school and Paulina. It is continued the year after with the devices moving to the seventh grade, and with new ones provided for the incoming sixth graders. In subsequent years the pattern continues using Intel and other sources for funding.
   All of this makes the work of our citizen led facilities committee and school Board more difficult. Over the next several months, a 20 year facilities plan will be finalized that will include a phased process of repairing, upgrading, or even replacing some schools as well as providing additional space for our rapidly growing student population. The classrooms that are updated and the ones that we build will need to be flexible to changes in the future and will need to accommodate all of the modern technology that is necessitated for student and teacher use. Network wiring; wireless systems; electrical outlets; storage places for portable computing and communication devices; spaces for individual, small group, and large group instruction will all need to part of our updated or new schools. We want to make sure any new school we build serves the changing needs for the following 50 years and serves as well as the current ones in our community have for the last 50 years.
   The result of the work by the committee and board is to have a long-range facility plan validated by community input and review by late this spring or early summer. Implementation for the beginning phase of the plan needs to take place within the next three years to address our growth and maintenance issues. Most likely a vote for bonding will occur during the spring or fall of 2008 to help with the financing of the first phase of the plan. The timing of a new levy will coincide with the ability to end the tax levy for the current high school bonds using a reserve account from the high school levy. Ending the current high school levy coupled with the increase of the assessed valuation in our school district (due to new construction and the development destination resorts) will help lesson the tax rate increase for new bonding to finance the various phases of the facility plan. I am sure most of the current citizens of the Crook County School District won't mind having our new friends moving in from California, Washington and other parts of our state and country to our new subdivisions and destination resorts, help pay a major portion of the bill for the upgraded and new school facilities that are needed.