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In New York, a Unique District Struggles for Digital Equity

After enrollment and staffing plummeted during the pandemic, Greenburgh Eleven is the only school district in the state that hasn’t submitted an instructional technology plan that would provide funding for 2022-2025.

A computer keyboard with a crack running down the middle of it and two plastic figures of people standing on either side of it with their back to each other.
The Greenburgh Eleven Union Free School District is located in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., one of the wealthiest areas in the nation. But few if any of the K-12 special-education district’s 125 students are from there.

Many reside at the neighboring Children’s Village juvenile justice facility and attend school under court order. Others make the long trip from New York City, Long Island or Poughkeepsie. District leaders told Government Technology that everyone there struggles with either emotional challenges, behavior disorders or academic deficiencies.

The district must abide by most of the state’s public-school mandates, but it cannot levy taxes. All funding comes from tuition payments or state and federal aid based on the number of students. COVID-19 dealt a devastating blow, bringing enrollment down to 85 kids, reducing public money to the district and resulting in budget cuts. Full-time music, art and technology teachers were the first to go. Additional instructors left voluntarily, as did administrators. The superintendent, principal, business administrator and student support director have all been there less than one year.

“Programs and staff were decimated,” K-12 Principal William Rolon said in an interview Tuesday with Government Technology. “Essentially, we are starting over.”

Superintendent Winsome Gregory said the top priority was stabilizing the business office so the bills would be paid, followed by making sure the school was a “safe, structured setting” for its students.

According to a spreadsheet on the state education department’s website, Greenburgh Eleven remains the only public school district out of 686 in New York state that has yet to submit an instructional technology plan for the period of 2022-2025, which is required for state funding. The plans for seven other districts are marked as “in-process,” indicating that approval is pending. That list includes Andover, Forestville, Greenburgh-Graham, Johnsburg, Lyndonville, New Suffolk and Niagara Wheatfield.

Under New York state law and a section of the Commissioner’s Regulations, the instructional technology plans must be updated and submitted every three years, with the current plans expiring June 30, 2025. According to the state education department website, these plans must include:

  • A strategic plan with goals for integrating technology into teaching and learning.
  • Guidelines for professional development to make sure district employees are prepared to integrate learning technologies.
  • A plan for using technology to enhance learning environments that are culturally and linguistically responsive.
  • A plan for increasing access to digital resources and technology-rich learning experiences that align with standards.

Those plans must be published on the district website for public viewing.

Education department spokesman JP O’Hare wrote in an email to Government Technology last week that state regulation “makes clear that a plan must be on file in order to receive aid for instructional computer hardware and technology equipment.”

“Based on this,” O’Hare wrote in the email, “districts without approved plans are not eligible for Smart Schools Bond Act (SSBA) funding and grant programs that could fund technology. We communicate this to Regional Information Centers (RICs) and districts throughout the Instructional Technology Plan process.”

On the state’s live spreadsheet that tracks the status of each district’s technology plan, New York City, the largest district in the state, was still listed as in process earlier this month but was updated to approved status last week. O’Hare provided in an email a diagram of the approval process, which shows that school districts work with their regional Board of Cooperative Educational Services to establish a timeline for creating and submitting the document to the state. Representatives from the state department of education review the document, reserving the right to request revisions and send the document back to the district before approval is granted.

Superintendent Gregory said the district is just starting to draft an instructional technology plan. Many students who did not return to school during the pandemic did not return their school-issued computers, and the district only recently secured enough resources to provide devices for every student. Enrollment is up to about 125 now, and a teacher with experience in technology is filling in as a technology liaison who works with the local Board of Cooperative Educational Services to provide shared resources. If and when enrollment reaches 130 students, Gregory said, the district should get enough public funding to restore the full-time technology coordinator position.

“If we didn’t have those things in place — someone to oversee technology and a statement that every student has Chromebook to use at school — we didn’t want to lie about it (on an instructional technology plan). Now, we’re finally moving forward in a positive direction,” Gregory said in an interview Tuesday with Government Technology, adding that her district is also eligible for federal learning recovery aid.

Gregory said her district aims to submit an instructional technology plan before the start of the 2023-2024 academic year.
Aaron Gifford has several years of professional writing experience, primarily with daily newspapers and specialty publications in upstate New York. He attended the University at Buffalo and is based in Cazenovia, NY.