THE LATEST HOT TOPICS

During the past few months, I have spent a great deal of time on the road attending education association shows and conventions. This is one task I thoroughly enjoy. Keeping in touch with the attendees always gives me a fresh perspective on the issues facing school administrators. What I have learned is that while many things stay the same, like lack of adequate funding, many have taken on a new twist. Below are some of the“hot” topics from the field.

Technology

Not that long ago, the focus of district technology initiatives was to put computers in the classroom. In 1984, the national student-to-computer ratio was 125-to-one. By 2003, that number had dropped to four-to-one. The consensus among attendees — mission accomplished. Now that the computers are in place, the focus has turned to their use and the cost of ownership. The 2003 NAEP study found that many computers were being used only to play math games and engage in drill-and-practice. This same study found that 28 percent of fourth grade teachers were not using the computers in their class at all. The answer here seems to be a renewed focus on teacher training in the use of technology.

“Total Cost of Ownership” (TCO) is another hot topic in the field. Schools have purchased and installed all of this new computer equipment, only to realize that the hardware cost was the least of their worries. A recent survey by one of the computer manufacturers revealed that only one out of every 25 decision-makers realized that costs incurred after initial deployment comprise the largest component of IT cost — up to 80 percent. Coming up with the additional funds to support the installed base weighs heavy on the minds of many district officials.

Safety and Security

As a nation, our idea of safety and security changed forever on 9/11 and schools were not exempt. On the home front,“Zero Tolerance” policies have been instituted by many districts that administer severe penalties on students who engage in violent acts or threats of violence. Bullying and harassment prevention programs and legislation are also high on the list. The focus of the Department of Homeland Security revolves around emergency planning, the four basic principles being: mitigation and prevention (risk assessment, access control, CPTED); preparedness (plan, practice, communication with parents, media and law-enforcement); response (roles and responsibilities); and recovery (crisis recovery teams and notification of parents on actions to take place).

Security technologies, such as student identification cards, CCTV and access control systems, also took center stage. Student identification card systems can range from identification badges to smart cards. We all know about districts that use the cards to check out library books, but a growing number are using card systems to check small children on and off the bus. CCTV cameras are showing up everywhere, and digital video is the buzz. Simply stated, digital video is accessible from anywhere there is an Internet connection, not just from the school resource officer’s workplace. Another benefit is the ability to quickly scan for activity without having to review the entire tape. While schools realize that cameras can’t prevent incidents, they have found that they certainly can deter them.

Access control can mean anything from door and entry systems to Internet security. On the building side, solutions ranged from key control and card access to electronic locks and biometric devices. Many of the new systems included real-time monitoring and reporting capabilities. Some were integrated with the CCTV and other security systems, ensuring students an even safer environment.

Sustainability

Perhaps the biggest buzz was about the move towards high-performance schools. Everyone seems to have jumped aboard that bandwagon and with good reason. Statistics show that between 25 to 30 percent of all energy consumed in schools is wasted. Savings from the $6 billion/year spent on energy could pay for 30,000 new teachers or 40,000,000 textbooks. Saving energy and money, while important benefits of high-performance schools, are secondary to the more important benefits of better health and heightened student performance. A number of studies have been released that support these claims.

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