New school is 21st century in every way

The new Dunedin Elementary is wired for the state-of-the-art technology in each classroom.

By ELIZABETH MIDDLETON, Times Correspondent
Published August 21, 2007

DUNEDIN - When the new Dunedin Elementary School opens today, many of the traditional classroom amenities will be missing.

Chalkboards, erasers, card catalogs and even lunch tickets have all been replaced with state-of-the-art technology.

"It's not what it used to be," principal Kathy Brickley said Monday as she scurried across campus spot-checking problems in preparation for an open house later in the afternoon

"Kids are surrounded by computers. We in education need to keep up with their needs," she said.

Construction workers were still on site installing ceiling tiles, setting up classrooms and trouble-shooting the technology. Each classroom is wired for high-speed Internet connections, digital projectors, document cameras, an audio amplification system and laptop computers for each student.

"Technology is the major improvement over the old school," Brickley said. "It takes it to the next level and puts us on the leading edge. It is a school for the 21st century".

When the bell rings this morning, 583 students, grades pre-K though fifth, will start the school year at the $23-million two-story complex at Patricia and Union streets. The 96,000-square-foot facility, on the former site of the old Dunedin Middle School, has 52 full-time classrooms.

The crown jewel of the school's advanced technology systems is the smart boards in every classroom, which replace conventional chalkboards and dry erase boards.

With the new system, a teacher can write on a portable electronic tablet from anywhere in the classroom and the words will appear on the board.

The teacher can also write on the board with a laser pen. A character recognition program stores the information so lessons can be pulled up at a later time and reviewed.

The board also is connected to each student's laptop computer.

Fifth-grade teacher Ann Welsh began using this technology last year. "It instantly improved the kids' focus. It's interactive with pictures and noise. They are all hooked in. They are using the (computer) medium outside so it is very intuitive to them," she said.

As part of an enhanced audio system, teachers wear wireless microphones, freeing them to walk anywhere in the classroom. "Research shows that students tune in better when they can hear and the teachers don't have to raise their voices," said Rachel Admire, a fourth-grade language arts teacher who demonstrated the system for visitors.

The media center houses a computer lab, student-run television studio and holds about 11,000 books, an increase of 6,000 from the old library.

In lieu of a card catalog system, students can peruse a countywide computer electronic database. The database can be searched by reading level to match students to appropriate books.

The upgraded technology extends to the "cafetorium," a multipurpose room which serves as the auditorium and cafeteria.

There, the cashier searches a computer screen for the student's picture. By clicking on the picture, the cost of the lunch is automatically deducted from the student's account.

In the school's music room, students can play 17 Yamaha electronic keyboards. There's also an iMac to run music teaching software, said music teacher Tammy Folstad.

Technology also has enhanced security.

There are 23 closed-circuit cameras installed throughout the grounds. At the school's front office, all visitors must present a driver's license, which is scanned through a government database listing the names of sexual offenders.

If an alert pops up, the visitor is escorted from the premises and the computer automatically notifies law enforcement.

Construction on the school began February 2006. The building, designed by Fleischman-Garcia Architects, is in keeping with Dunedin's Scottish heritage theme, evoking a Scottish plaid texture with accents of blue tiles and glass bricks.