District mandates Chromebook use

Introduced this school year, the Student Technology Enhancement Plan, also known as STEP, is officially in full effect. The first few weeks of the policy have been met with both praise and criticism within staff and students; the main demographic affected by the new program.

After receiving feedback from previous school years, the district decided that a technological upgrade was of the utmost importance. 

“We heard a lot of feedback from the community as a whole,” said Jack Wallner, Instructional Technology Manager. “[Community members] felt that there were shortcomings related to the technology that we were delivering.”

A districtwide computer mandate is something that neighboring schools implemented years ago, and part of what helped push Shorewood to follow suit. 

“Shorewood is actually a little bit behind the curve on this,” Wallner said. “This is going to bring about better experiences in the classroom, and better experiences as a whole … really just bringing about something that aligns with our neighboring school districts.” 

The mass distribution proved to be a financially equitable choice for the district, as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds helped support this move, along with a budget allocation specifically for chromebooks already in place.

“I sat down and calculated what it would take to sustain this program, [and] we’re actually going to spend [close to] the same amount of money we have spent on chromebooks for about the last five to seven years,” Wallner said.

Sustainable budget choices are not the only benefit in the administration’s eyes.

“[Our main goal is] being able to put a device into the hands of every student, and knowing that [we’re] doing so in a way that’s as equitable as possible,” Wallner said. “Cohesiveness, safety, and equity are the three big things we think this is going to help [improve].”

While the new program has its benefits, one element in particular has sparked controversy within the student body. GoGuardian is an educational technology program that has the ability to monitor students’ screens, access computer data, and control what tabs are open. 

“[Our main goal is] being able to put a device into the hands of every student,

— Jack Wallner, Instructional Technology

Epiphany West, sophomore, believes that the district did a poor job at informing students of GoGuardian’s potential capabilities.

“I don’t know what the school has issued in place because they don’t fully reveal to students specifically. They definitely reveal things to parents, but not enough,” said West.

Privacy is a major concern for students in an increasingly technological world. 

“GoGuardian is entirely anti-privacy,” West said. “This is intentionally undermining a student’s autonomy.”

According to Wallner, the district has plans to institute new transparency tools, like a notification when a computer screen is being monitored. 

“We’ve learned that it’s not what the software is capable of, but how we use it,” Wallner said. “[We want to be] sure students know they can trust us to use it in a responsible fashion.”

“This is intentionally undermining a student’s autonomy.

— Epiphany West, sophomore

Other concerns for students are that of the overall quality of the provided chromebooks.

“The best way to describe [these computers] would be inefficient,” West said. “Students who have a computer, like a laptop, should be able to bring their own, and students who don’t should be able to go to the admin and [be issued] a laptop that is not a Chromebook.”

As of right now, this system will be in place for the foreseeable future, as it satisfies both budgetary concerns and guarantees equity within technology for students. 

“In the long-term, this is probably going to be something that we’re sticking with,” Wallner said. “I would like to emphasize that feedback is something we are willing to take from anyone.”

Due to the fact that this is the first school year Shorewood has utilized this program, administrators view this as an ongoing learning experience. 

“One of the things I discussed while planning this with a few people is, we want to have some additional digital initiatives, and digital learning initiatives that we work around, but you can’t do that without a good basis,” Wallner said. “This is part of building that foundation – we need the right tools in the hands of our students and staff to make sure that we can support them.”