By CHRIS COLLINS
The Baker School Board got a lesson about COWs Tuesday night, but not the kind that moo.
In this case, COWs are "computers on wheels" that can be taken where they're needed to educate students, Doug Dalton, the district's chief financial officer, explained.
The portable computer stations are just one component of the district's expanding technology program aimed at preparing children to be more competitive and to achieve success during their K-12 education in Baker City. The district's technology plan is devised to produce technologically literate students by the end of the eighth-grade to comply with Oregon Department of Education mandates.
Dalton said he had just that day signed a purchase order requesting computer software that would help kindergarten students learn typing skills as a first step to helping them meet that goal.
But the youngest member of the board, 20-year-old Kyle Knight, expressed concern that the district might be placing too much emphasis on technology and too little on providing more student-teacher contact in the classrooms.
Knight also questioned the technological improvements at the elementary level during a time when Baker High School was hard hit by staffing cuts because of declining revenue from the state.
Dalton explained that the district must balance staffing with other expenses.
"You could almost have the same conversation with pencils or diesel fuel," Dalton said. "Would you rather have diesel or teachers - we need both."
Lynne Burroughs, a retired high school teacher and current board chair, added that the high school was better equipped with computers from the start than the elementary schools.
"You have to start somewhere," she said.
The current strategy was developed by a team that analyzed the district's needs as it moves forward to meet state and federal requirements for technology, Dalton said.
Superintendent Walt Wegener added that research shows that students must have "intentional and sustained" instruction to gain the most from it. That's why younger students are being introduced to the new systems first.
"Students in K-6 need to have it before we launch it at the high school," Wegener said.
That includes the use of Promethean boards, an interactive white board, also known as a smart board, that allows teachers to provide instruction via a computer and projection system. As part of the system, students can answer questions via hand-held "clickers" from their seats, which encourages participation from all students, the administrators said.
"Students, parents, PTOs see them and they demand them," Dalton said. "And they raise the money to pay for them."
There are now smart boards in every classroom in Grades 1-6. Some have been added at the middle school and high school, and more will be purchased later, Dalton said.
Nearly 80 percent of the smart board technology has been purchased with grant money and with funding provided by Parent-Teacher organizations and other sources, Dalton said.
Knight expressed concern about "forcing" teachers to use the smart boards to which Wegener replied that teacher training is an integral part of the district's technology plan and teachers will be expected to "join the universe where it is now."
Because of Tuesday's lengthy agenda, Burroughs proposed scheduling another work session to continue the discussion, but Knight agreed to put the matter to rest. He did insist on having one last word on the matter, however.
He said he disagrees with the district's emphasis on technology, adding that he believes the community would prefer more student-teacher contact instead.
In a telephone conversation Wednesday, Knight said he is not opposed to technology.
"I'm a pro tech guy," he said. "But there are certain tech things we can purchase for the district that are a lot cheaper."
In other business Tuesday night, the board agreed to honor a great former Baker High School athlete by approving an official name for the BHS track.
It will now be known as the Dan Kelly Memorial Track in honor of the young man who won a silver medal in the broad jump at the 1908 Olympics in London as a member of the United States track and field team.
Baker High School principal Jerry Peacock said the BHS Leadership class became interested in honoring Kelly after his story was told by Baker City historian Gary Dielman. Dielman's story was published in the Nov. 25, 2009, edition of the Baker City Herald.
Kelly grew up in Baker City and in 1906, as a University of Oregon sophomore, he claimed the 100-yard-dash world record at a meet in Spokane, Wash. His time of 9.6 seconds, stood for 23 years. Kelly also won the broad jump and set another record in the 220-yard dash during the Spokane competition.
Peacock said today that with funding provided by the Leo Adler Foundation, the high school plans to install a windbreak on the north end of the track. Archways and a kiosk with information about Kelly also will be incorporated into the project.
In other action Tuesday night, the board accepted the audit as presented by Mitch Saul of the Oster Professional Group accounting firm in John Day.
Saul praised the efforts of the district to improve accounting practices.
"As far as anything significant, this is essentially a clean audit," he told the board.