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VFEE Makes Huge Grant For School Computers

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Superintendent Rui Dionisio with the new Verona-branded Chromebook.
Superintendent Rui Dionisio with the new Verona-branded Chromebook.
The Verona Foundation for Educational Excellence (VFEE) has made many grants to Verona’s public school teachers since it started in 2007. It has provided grants for outdoor science education and a composer in residence who involved the entire middle school in creating a new piece of music that was premiered by H.B. Whitehorne musicians. It has granted funds to teach computer programming and physics. Sometimes, only a few hundred dollars was needed to fund a new experience for Verona’s children, sometimes a bit more.

Now, VFEE is granting much more. On Tuesday night, September 8, the non-profit unveiled the largest grant in its history: $75,000. The special grant will be given to the district in $25,000 increments over the next three years to expand the district-wide Google Initiative, adding 400 Chromebooks to the 460 already in use.

“Our board is dedicated to directly impacting student success, enriching student opportunities and supporting quality instruction,” said VFEE Chair Cathy Jackson in a statement.

Nick Klose, VFEE grants coordinator, explained the reasons for the grant at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting.
Nick Klose, VFEE grants coordinator, explained the reasons for the grant at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

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Superintendent Rui Dionisio said in the same statement that, “We have a responsibility to make schools more relevant for kids as they walk through our front doors each and every morning. The technology we are scaling is not a substitute for high quality instruction in our classrooms, but rather a means to enhance learning opportunities for our students that did not otherwise exist without the technology.”

Google's education apps make it possible for VHS students to see their class assignments on their smartphones.
Google’s education apps make it possible for VHS students to see their class assignments on their smartphones.
Here’s how the VFEE grant will be put to work. At Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, the BOE approved a lease-purchase agreement for Chromebooks for an amount not to exceed $150,000. The grant will be put towards half of the lease payments, with the BOE picking up the rest out of its regular operating budget. Verona will own the Chromebooks at the end of the lease. Thirty-six Verona teachers, representing every school and subject, were selected this summer for a special Google Teacher Academy where they learned to use the Chromebooks and the free educational apps that Google has developed for them as part of its Google Classroom program. Dionisio said last night that these teachers have already begun teaching other teachers how to use the technology. “Our teachers are really excited about it,” he said. Verona High School’s new principal, Joshua Cogdill, has been using his Twitter account to showcase the Google apps in action in his classrooms.

Chromebooks could last longer than a standard laptop because they are designed to work mostly while connected to the Internet so they have somewhat less hardware under their covers to break down or become obsolete. Google’s current “end of life” policy indicates that it will support the software component of the machines for at least five years. Superintendent Rui Dionisio said after the meeting that it is Verona’s intent to keep adding to its Chromebook inventory every year and to bring school WiFi connections, which were greatly expanded in all six schools thanks to the March 2014 referendum, to every individual students.

VHS Principal Joshua Cogdill showed off this picture of Chromebooks in action in a science class.
VHS Principal Joshua Cogdill showed off this picture of Chromebooks in action in a science class.
But because the Google apps work on the smartphones that are nearly ubiquitous among VHS students, the reach of the Google Initiative will go well beyond any Chromebooks that are bought. Cogdill has explained, on his blog, that “it is expected that Verona High School will be a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) school where students will be encouraged bring in their electronic devices to enhance their learning experience.” Already, VHS students have school Gmail accounts and can view and complete class assignments through their phones. “VFEE tries to make sure that any request for technology demonstrates that that technology will be used in a meaningful way,” said VFEE Grants Coordinator Nick Klose in making the presentation to the BOE on Tuesday.

Both Dionisio and BOE President John Quattrocchi repeatedly thanked VFEE for the grant at Tuesday’s meeting. VFEE, which is a registered 501c(3) non-profit, noted that the Google Initiatives Grant Award “would not be possible without the generous support of our donor base”. “We want to thank those who have provided contributions that fund quality innovative educational grants to Verona public schools in an effort to enrich the educational experience of the students of Verona,” Jackson said in the statement. “Your support is greatly appreciated by the trustees of VFEE as well as district teachers, administrators and students.”

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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