When the passed a sweeping referendum to update the district's technology in 1998 they put the local schools among the best in the state.
Not only were the students given some of the best equipment possible at the time, but teachers and administrators were also gearing up for what was to come in the 21st century.
Superintendent Enid Golden said that referendum made lasting changes in the district beyond just the new equipment. "We were way ahead of everyone else and it was great," she said of the improvements. "It set the bar in that we realized we couldn't even hire teachers who weren't tech savvy."
At that time Golden said some of the more seasoned teachers who were not as familiar with technology retired allowing them to bring in new ones who knew how to use what was available to them. "From that point forward we only hired staff that came out of school and were excited about it," she said.
Now, more than a decade later the district is looking at ways to stay at the top of the technology pack in tougher economic times. Over the past two years Golden said the district has had to deal with deep budget cuts that prevented them from moving forward with the latest technological options available to them. "We put technology on the back burner because of the budget shortfall and now we're finding that we're paying the price for it," she said.
The district recently and just one day later they found out they will be getting an from Trenton. When the budget was discussed there were questions about whether additional money would be put toward technology. Those questions only figure to be louder with the additional allocation.
As part of the effort to turn that around a was established to see what the district could do to upgrade their current equipment to keep them competitive with surrounding schools. At last week's board of education meeting the task force gave an update on their progress so far.
The presentation was given by Claire Engle, the district's supervisor of instrumental technology and staff development. Engle said since the district passed the referendum not only has the technology available to students changed, but the fields they are likely to get jobs in have also drastically changed.
Among the most popular jobs forecast to be available over the next few years according to Engle are biomedical engineering, network systems and data communications analysts and home health aides. Because of that she said students will need to know key skills like the ability to work and learn together and also be as digitally savvy as possible when they get out of school.
Since it was started in November of 2011 the task force has seen its membership and the scope of its mission grow. In addition to meeting with computer companies like Apple and Dell members of the group have travelled to districts across the state.
Those visits included the Monroe Township schools and Pascack Valley High School. In those schools ideas like utilizing tablets and laptops are already being implemented at various grade levels. Monroe High School, which is one of the newest schools in the area is utilizing an iPad program for its students, one of the options the Howell schools are considering.
The task force currently has 55 members bringing different perspectives to the group according to Golden. In addition to three members of the board of education there are also 21 residents serving as members, four citizen employees, one student from each of the middle schools and 24 district employees.
With the three student members, Golden said they are looking to get feedback from the people who will be impacted most by any changes in the future. They helped to create a survey for other students in the district using their own ideas as to what they would like to see done.
Golden said the reason so many people were included was to not only get a wide variety of opinions as input but also to show how seriously the district is taking the issue. "We're really looking at every option so that when we come to the board with a recommendation they'll be aware that a lot of energy was put into selecting whatever the committee finally comes and recommends."
Once they have collected all the information Engle and Golden said the task force hopes to present its findings to the board either in April or May. The board is scheduled to meet next Wednesday as well as March 28.