The district is well-known for a variety of innovative programs including its InSTAR program, a three-year science research program which produces record numbers of Intel Science Talent Search semifinalists. In 2008, the district’s program produced 13 semifinalists, the most semifinalists from a single school in the entire nation. The district’s Intellectually Gifted (I.G.) program is housed at its William Sidney Mount Elementary School. Instructional technology is an important part of the district’s commitment to education. The district provides access to a variety of educational software and learning resources with internet access available to students beginning in the second grade. Students in each school have access to a dedicated computer lab, workstation-equipped libraries and laptop /netbook carts. Teachers have access to an in classroom computer and a number of interactive tools including documents cameras, whiteboards and projectors.
In 2011, Three Village IT leaders decided to complement the district’s existing classroom technology initiatives with an interactive presentation program. For assistance, the district turned to Custom Computer Specialists, a Long Island-based technology provider that specializes in large-scale technology implementations, comprehensive support programs and consulting on IT technologies and solutions for districts throughout the region. “We chose Custom because we had worked with them on several previous projects and we’d always had a positive experience,” said Kerrin Welch-Pollera, the district’s director of instructional technology. “For this project, we did a side-by-side comparison with multiple vendors. They each showed us different solutions and demo’d technology for us. Custom had the most flexible, intuitive solution.” “Initially we were interested in interactive whiteboards. Whiteboards are an important element of the classroom, and we wanted teachers and students to have a more interactive tool,” continued Welch-Pollera. “With regular whiteboards, we felt they were missing out on a much richer experience.” Soon, the district found that interactive whiteboards were cost-prohibitive to deploy across the district. With the help of Custom, they learned about interactive projectors that turn any presentation surface—including whiteboards, blackboards and greenboards—into an interactive backdrop. “The interactive projectors were much more cost effective than the interactive whiteboards, and they’re a lot more portable,” explained Jim Fargione, the district’s lead teacher for instructional technology. “This means that where it’s appropriate, we can very easily share projectors among multiple classrooms.”
Before making the purchase, Custom set up a small pilot at one of its elementary school classrooms so that Welch-Pollera and Fargione could make sure the solution was right for the district. “Custom’s leadership was the key to the success of the first pilot classroom,” said Welch-Pollera. “After they installed the pilot projectors, they spent a lot of time making sure it was working correctly and helping the teachers learn how to use it, and then followed up with several additional visits.” The pilot teacher was extremely pleased with the interactive projector, and the district decided to move forward with the purchase. “When we decided to go ahead with the purchase, Custom set up a formal training process for all the administrators,” Fargione added. “Based on what we learned, I was able to easily train the teachers on how to connect the projector and use the tools and software. The teachers took to it and they quickly learned how to find existing lessons on the internet and create lessons themselves.” Welch-Pollera advises districts and schools with limited budgets to consider interactive projectors instead of interactive whiteboards. “Whatever technology you choose to make your classrooms more interactive, put it in the teachers’ hands first,” she continued. “Pilot it, make sure it works, and make sure it’s intuitive and flexible before purchasing it. Adds Fargione, “Another thing that worked well for us is a program from the projector vendor that provides replacement lamps for five years, in addition to five-year warranties. This gives us confidence in the technology as a long-term investment that won’t need to be replaced every two or three years.”
“We had a good experience with Custom. We’re very happy with the integration,” concludes Fargione. “They were very supportive in the pilot and the training, and they were always responsive with all our questions and concerns.” The projector deployment began with all sixth grade classrooms, and then moved to the fifth, fourth and third grades. They are now installed in all grade 3-6 classrooms, and other classes have access to shared projectors. “It’s a very flexible solution, which is one of the reasons why teacher feedback has been positive,” noted Welch-Pollera. “They tell us that it’s easier for them to present and demonstrate concepts and that it engages the students more.”