Magazine article Curriculum Administrator

Managing the "Business of Education"

Magazine article Curriculum Administrator

Managing the "Business of Education"

Article excerpt

Sound judgements and a focus on the future help wring the most out of this West Virginia county's school budget.

Providing quality education is one thing. Providing it while making the most of an overworked budget is a delicate balancing act that most school districts know too well. In West Virginia's Wetzel County school district, sound business judgements and an eye to the future have proved a successful combination, says Superintendent Martha Dean.

"When we develop a budget for the year, we first have to look at our essential cost and, for us, that is the cost of providing personnel to do our work. That takes probably 80 to 85 percent of our entire budget." Dean says her district doesn't have control over what it spends for personnel because of class-size laws that it must comply with, and services, such as aides and bus drivers, that must be provided.

"Since we don't have control over personnel costs, our approach is to make the things that we need to do our jobs--the educational materials--our big priority." That's where strategic planning comes in. "When you consider your long-term goals, for example a 10-year goal to have a LAN that connects the entire district with fiber optics, you need to set aside a portion of your tech budget each year to meet that long-range goal," Dean says. "But you still cannot ignore the short-term needs, the instructional needs, for this year's students. So you try to balance the long-range plans with the critical needs of the students you have in the system now."

CHANGING WITH THE TIMES

Like the technology itself, those long-range goals must, at times, be modified. The district developed its original technology plan some six years ago, when the goal was simply to get a computer in each classroom and a LAN in every school. Having accomplished that, as well as having Internet connectivity among the schools, the new focus is on making sure teachers have adequate training to use the technology.

"If you look back over the last six years, the degree to which technology is used in the school has changed dramatically," Dean says. "We didn't even think of doing a Web lesson six years ago, and now our teachers are beginning to move toward using the Web as a tool to develop lessons that students can get at school and at home."

Dean says technology and curriculum integration is a key element of Wetzel County's long-range planning. The district is supportive of professional development initiatives for teachers, through on-site training sessions and programs offered throughout the state.

Technology can help students develop their critical thinking and decision-making skills, she says. "It's a sequential process. You begin with kindergarten kids that go to the computer lab and learn some basic skills. As they move through the curriculum and the grade levels, they become adept at using the computers, and they learn how to use the Web to find information for themselves. Then, in the classroom, they learn how to assimilate that information to answer questions that focus their learning. As they mature, they design their own projects because they've developed these skills."

In a world where technology pervades seemingly every facet of life, students need to be better equipped to meet the technological challenges of the future. This view is one of the driving forces behind how technology purchase decisions are made at her district, says Dean. …

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