Status of Smart Schools Bond Spending

The district has placed its first orders for technology approved in the NYS Smart Schools Investment Plan (SSIP). Included in this order are Dell Chromebook 11 Touch devices for our 9th, 10th, and 11th grade students, and all teachers who requested one, Macbook Pro devices for the high school art department, and iMacs for the BHS Innovation Learning Center in order to extend access to resources used in the art department. In early February the district will place its second order, including a Chromebook for every student at Wells Middle School and devices for students to use in JFK.  The Brewster Central School District will receive more than $1.5 million dollars to support its technology plan, as detailed in the district’s SSIP.

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Chromebooks and Chromebases: Innovative Strategy Benefits Students and District

Chromebook TCO


The district’s decision last year to adopt G-Suite (formerly Google Apps for Education) provides many cost effective resources for our students. This move, which allows anytime/anywhere/any device access to digital resources for our learning community, also provides the district the opportunity streamline our operations and maintain a robust digital learning environment through the use of Chromebooks and Chromebase devices.  As a result, we are able to reduce our total cost of ownership by an estimated 61% compared to our traditional desktop and laptop implementations and increase the rate at which we deploy devices by an estimated 93%.  In the BHS Innovation Learning Center (ILC) for example, team member John Castellano booted, configured, and registered to our dashboard five Chromebase devices in less than four minutes! This will be a significant benefit as we acquire several thousand devices through the NYS Smart Schools Bond Act.  Not only will we be able to get devices into the hands of our students much quicker, these efficiencies allow our technical support staff to spend more time working on complex responsibilities such as data security, network upgrades and fine tuning, as well as moving forward with projects such as single sign-on for users and optimizing cloud resources.

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Smart Schools Review Board Approves BCSD Smart Schools Investment Plan

Earlier today, the Brewster Central School District’s Smart School Investment Plan (SSIP) was approved by the NYS review committee. The committee, consisting of the NYS Director of the Budget, the NYS Education Commissioner and the SUNY Chancellor approved sixty other public school plans, including ten in the Lower Hudson Region.

The district had been waiting months for approval of the SSIP so it can begin purchasing Chromebooks and other resources. For many teachers and students in the district, this is the moment they have been waiting for, and the district can now move forward with its planned purchases. The purchases are aligned with the goal of providing all students with access to technology on demand, with a 1:1 ratio for grades 2-12 over the next two years. Students in grades 1-6 will have extensive access to Chromebooks in the classrooms. Students in grades 7-12 will be provided a District owned Chromebook and case which they may take home after school hours and teachers will be provided a District owned Chromebook.

The district’s Investment Plan includes resources for replacing projectors as necessary, providing the initial roll-out of interactive flat screen monitors, varying from 32” – 90” depending on need and location, and the ongoing improvement of district networks, including wireless access.

Now that the plan has been approved, the district will initiate the first round of its purchases. Budget codes, processes for ordering, configuring, distributing–as well as associated logistics–have already been addressed and are ready for implementation. Meetings have been ongoing with principals to address the specifics for each school. In some cases, the technology may not be available until February (i.e. Yoga model Chromebooks which double as tablets). The delivery and distribution of various technologies will depend on what is being ordered, the availability of the products, and other factors that we cannot control. The Department of Technology and Innovation will provide regular progress updates.

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Where Does My Work Go When I Log-in to G-Suite (formerly Google Apps for Education)?   

As a district, we’ve embraced the G-Suite set of tools as our cornerstone for creating, communicating, and collaborating.  From a user’s experience, it’s simple; log in to the Brewster Schools’ domain and choose which tool to use.  Whether it’s Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Gmail, or forms, it just works. Period.

The work is automatically saved in the cloud and can be accessed by an authorized user anytime, anywhere, and on any device with an Internet connection.  Work can be continued on a Chromebook even without an internet connection as well (enable off-line editing).  To make the system work takes a great deal of effort, and security at the data centers is essential in maintaining the public’s trust that the information we save to Google is kept secure.

“I think the Google Data Centers really can offer a level of security that almost no other company can match,” says Joe Kava, Google’s vice-president of data centers.  In a closing comment on this video, Kava’s comments echo the core beliefs of our district Strategic Coherence Plan.  He states, “The thing that amazes me about Google and the data centers is the pace of innovation, and always challenging the way we’re doing things.  So when people say innovation in a certain area is done…I just laugh.”

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Alex Capecelatro, 2006 BHS Graduate, to Speak with BHS Students Via Google Hangout

Students from Science Research, Project Lead the Way, Robotics, and AP Physics have been invited to participate in a Google Hangout (video conference) with Alex Capecelatro, BHS Class of 2006.  Topics of the forty minute conversation will include innovation, design thinking, artificial intelligence, and entrepreneurialism in a dynamic career environment.  Capecelatro is no stranger in these areas, as illustrated in this February 2016 PC Magazine article, Robots Want Your Job.  His professional bio provides insight to his experience and expertise in this rapidly changing arena.

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H.H. Wells Twenty Percent Projects

Students on the H.H. Wells Middle School 7th grade white team are involved in year long 20% projects, and today five groups in Ms. Allen and Ms. Gargano’s collaborative mentor group shared their progress and ideas.  These included what problem they had set out to solve and the plans they had made to successfully impact a cause for which they are passionate. The projects were varied and each group successfully presented their progress to their teachers and classmates.

One group of three girls set out to do a different project each month that would benefit others in the community and beyond.  This month they are doing a toy drive for a children’s hospital in Westchester and next month they plan on visiting senior citizens in a local retirement home.

Another student shared with the class his goal of creating a handbook on poison ivy.  His goal was to raise awareness because he has suffered from poison ivy many times.  “I hate it when it happens to me,” he said.  “I don’t want other people to deal with it.”  His action plan includes a small booklet which contains facts.  For example, “If you get it on your shoelaces and tie your shoes,” he said, “if you then sweat and wipe your face, it can transfer.”

Two girls set out to solve problems related to smoking by preventing people from ever starting.  Their plans included a machine that, “hugs you really hard to make it hard to breath so you can feel how it feels to be a smoker.”  They are currently working on a prototype.

Allowing more time for homework and preventing sleep deprivation was the motivation for three boys who are working on a campaign to modify schedules on specific days. They developed a model that will allow students to sleep an extra hour on PLC days–similar to a model at the high school–and which will also allow a study hall for students who struggle to finish homework.  They shared the struggle some student athletes have when they practice from 5:00 to 8:30pm and have limited time for homework. The team plans to present their case to Principal Clarke when the project is completed.

The last group to present during the class consisted of two girls who want to provide assistance to the Putnam Humane Society.  They will research the greatest areas of need and hold a series of bake sales to raise money.  One of the girls will foster a dog for several months, and the other has adopted a kitten.

Using 20% projects to inspire passion based learning is powerful.  The entire 7th grade white team, consisting of Katie Allen, Nora Johnston, Jon Martin, Diane Czarnik, and Marisa Garganoher collaborate during lunches and team meeting time to work on this project. The students are thoroughly engaged, and will continue with such projects throughout the year.

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Coding at Wells Middle School and Beyond

Today I had the opportunity to see some of the various coding that the sixth graders are working on in the library with Ms. DeBellis.  Over the course of the year, all sixth graders have an experience coding and sharing their work with the classmates.  In addition to the CS programming projects, several students are exploring Alice, a 3-D coding language created at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). One student spoke with me for a while and explained the strategies and steps necessary to create the Star Wars trailer he developed.  This included various camera angles and plenty of “try and try again” troubleshooting to figure out the best way to achieve his goals.  As with many of the programs in the district, the coding platforms are web based and can be used outside of the school.  Such high interest activities are a great way to shift from passive screen time to productive screen time!

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Final Steps of Migration from Microsoft Office to Google Apps (G Suite)

Last year the district decided to replace Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Office with Gmail and Google Apps for Education, saving tens of thousands of dollars each year and aligning the district to its strategic coherence plan.  Our team has been manually uninstalling the software, being careful not to disrupt any other services. Over the past few days–while school was not in session–, our team manually removed Microsoft Office from most of the remaining computers.

Based on feedback from the technology committee, the district decided to leave Microsoft Office (without Outlook) on computers located in the district offices for specific tasks, with all office staff members using Google Apps in their interactions within the district.  For more information regarding the rationale behind our district’s decision and the collective benefits, please view the GAFE Campaign details.

Note: Google Apps for Education (GAFE) was recently rebranded G Suite and they are synonymous.

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Google update: Google Apps Changes its Name

Google Apps is changing its name to better reflect their mission. G Suite is here!


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The Basic Google Drive Skills for Students

Google Drive is a cloud-based file storage system that allows you to create, edit, store and share documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. You can access these items anywhere through the internet. As we move forward with our technology initiative, students need to develop the basic benchmarks for using Google Drive. Click on the links below to see the skills all students should know when using Google Drive.

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