The Block Island Times
http://block-island.villagesoup.com/p/1072150

Island School ventures into Facebook

By Gloria S. Redlich | Oct 29, 2013
School Superintendent Robert Hicks has started a Facebook page seeking input about the future of the Block Island School.

School Superintendent Robert Hicks seemed a bit more surprised than convinced as he announced his decision to bring the Block Island School into cyberspace, specifically onto Facebook. At the Oct. 21 meeting of the Block Island School Committee, Hicks acknowledged the experience is entirely new to him and said, “Looking at social media is a challenge.”

However, he explained his choice as coming about after it was announced last spring that enrollment would decline over the next few years. When the trends were announced, the School Committee asked Hicks to review how the school’s grades were organized. In doing so, Hicks said he thought it best to “take a broader look at our school’s possible future, most notably to include technology.”

To accomplish that task, Hicks said he wanted “to maximize participation” and decided “to use social media, particularly Facebook” as part of that process. Having investigated what his colleagues were doing, Hicks found that many were using Facebook, and he concluded he should do so as well.

Hicks created a Facebook page called “Block Island School Future,” which asks people to think about where the island school is or should be going and to post their comments. In the past, preliminary discussions on the blending of technology into the classroom had raised concerns.He said rather than gathering people at meetings, he thought it preferable to have people access information in a new way.

Board member Elizabeth Connor said, “I think it’s a great way to reach out to people.” Member Chris Willi agreed that the site was “good for getting people together. It’s a good avenue to pursue [in order] to get information out and get comments back.” Board member Annie Hall thought it was “a great idea to get feedback from people who can’t come to meetings.”

When he had checked the site recently, Hicks said he was pleased “to find we had two ‘likes.’” (It had risen to 60 “likes” by noon on Wednesday, Oct. 23.)

Once on the site, a visitor will find directions to the Block Island School website (http://blockislandschool.net) where Hicks has posted a number of documents explaining options for multi-age classrooms, the use of technology in classes and information on blended classrooms. Among these is a 67-page online booklet entitled, “The Multigrade Classroom: a Resource for Small, Rural Schools.”

Hicks noted there were a number of other prospects for learning about options, “including a network of island communities in Maine that has done research on small school organizations.”

In the interest of promoting awareness within the community, Hicks proposed the following steps: notifying the public about the school’s Facebook page; scheduling teams (of faculty members) to visit two schools — a model technology school in Providence and a multi-age school in Middletown. Team members will report back on their visits.

When Chair Bill Padien asked whether Hicks had discussed these visits with teachers, Hicks said he had and that they were eager to participate.

Parent Molly O’Neill expressed concern that, in terms of bringing technology and “distance learning” into the classroom, the school might be moving too quickly. Distance learning is the term used when teaching is done off-site through technology. O’Neill said, “We need to have the faculty in place” [first] and not have the students working without appropriate guidance.

She added, “I am renewing my concern. Last year, there were a few kids who dropped out [of distance learning classes] because the teachers weren’t up to speed on how to do things.”

Hicks said, “We need to see how other schools are doing this.”

Hicks said that he did not anticipate the process would yield definitive results — particularly leading to “what the school will do or become in the next decade.” He felt there was “too much more to learn … including what enrollment will be and where technology will go.”

Hicks said he did believe that the process would bring out what “our options are and what steps are available to us to become a better, more efficient school.”

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