Pirate News: Hart awarded $518,000 rural tech grant.

January 7, 2021

Pirate News: Hart awarded $518,000 rural tech grant.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

Pirate News is a service of Hart Public Schools in cooperation with Oceana County Press.

HART — Hart Public Schools is a technology leader among area districts, and a recently-awarded $518,000 grant will propel the district higher into the ever-advancing tech world.

School officials were recently notified that the district was awarded the rural technology grant from the Michigan-based Thompson Foundation.

The district began working with a consulting firm, Communications by Design based in Grand Rapids in preparation of implementing new technology with the grant funds. 

“Technology was already something that we were extremely good at,” said Superintendent Mark Platt. “I’m excited to see where it takes us.”

Over the past year, Platt has been working with Technology Director Jason Gale and Board of Education President Chad Coker to apply for the grant. “The grant application started over a year ago, but COVID put it on hold,” said Platt. “When the school year started, the Thompson Foundation reached out to us to tell us we were in the Top 10.” So, more people got involved in the process, including Level 1 Tech Phil DeBrot, Special Education Director Michaela Dennert, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) teacher Sarah Schmalz, Middle School Principal Kevin Ackley, Elementary School Principal Andrea Degen, High School Principal Brandon Bruce and Hart City Mayor Vicki Platt — Mark Platt’s wife. “We put together a team,” he said.

In October, the team met with representatives and toured the school campus. Officials were notified that Hart was in the Top 3 for obtaining the grant. They were then notified, Nov. 24, that they had been awarded the grant. “That was awesome,” he recalled.

The team met Jan. 6 with representatives from the Grass Lake school district located near Ann Arbor that had been awarded the grant six years ago.

The funds, which will be distributed in three phases, will improve technology district-wide.

“All of the staff devices will be upgraded,” said Platt. “All teacher stations will be replaced.” This is expected to be completed by next school year.

The grant funds will be used to replace all audio visual equipment district-wide. “We will be replacing the smart board with a new apparatus of some kind,” he said, adding that staff input will be critical to this task. 

Platt said it may take some time to get new equipment in, because the demand for new tech is so high right now due to COVD-19’s impact. 

Grant funds will be used for a third component of the district’s tech program, which is professional development. A technology coach for teachers will be hired to “increase teachers’ skill set in technology.” The tech coach may more than likely be hired in-house, and then another teacher would be hired to fill that person’s role. Grant funds would also help pay for teacher stipends for training sessions. Some professional development could occur in the summer as well as during the school year. Teachers already participate in tech training, the superintendent said, and the “Shoulder to Shoulder” training models will further enhance their skills. Communications by Design will be on campus to provide further tech expertise.

“The money is going directly into teaching and learning.”

As one of the cutting edge districts in West Michigan, Hart had already ensured all of its students are equipped with a device by providing them with Chromebooks. “If we were to shut down (due to COVID-19), we have enough for every student.”

The innovative Pirate Robotics Team launched five years ago through the leadership of Platt, Coker and teacher Mark Saari. The grant funds will provide $50,000 toward that program, said Platt. The money would be used to purchase additional tools, such as a mini CNC machine or 3D printers. “That’s a game changer for us.”

Also in the works is switching to the online Schoology learning management system. Schoology allows educators to organize curriculum, create lesson plans, and provide student assessment. The LMS platform allows for peer collaboration and engagement through public or private discussion forums and cross-application.

“Gone are the days when a student or teacher needs to stop in and get papers when they’re out sick. It will all be in the learning management system. You won’t be separated from your education.

Most of the tech improvements must meet approval from the Thompson Foundation and Communications by Design, he said. 

A lot of hard work will be involved to make the transition. “That’s OK. We knew that before we applied, because it’s better for our kids and instructional practices.

“I feel very fortunate,” he said. “Things like this do not happen all the time – they’re rare. We have to keep an open mind. We’re not doing this to be complicated — we’re doing this to be the best.”

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