@john_provost: Northampton schools open with a new chief and more steps into high tech

Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Northampton students can look forward to having WiFi connections to the Internet this year. By the end of September, the high school should be a WiFi hot spot.

“The world is working at that high rate of speed, so we need to give our kids exposure to that,” said Angelo Rota, technology director for the district. “Is that good or bad? I don’t know, that’s just the way it is.”

The project was made possible with city money requested by former Superintendent Brian Salzer, who asked for $300,000 over three years that has gone toward upgrading technology in the district, Rota said. The WiFi installation uses the last $100,000 of the funds, he said.

Once the high school is hooked up, Rota said, the next school to get WiFi will be John F. Kennedy Middle School, then Leeds and the other elementary schools. He said he hopes to complete this process in the next two years.

And by October, he said, the plan is for every school in the district to have access to a Chromebook cart. Northampton High School will have 30 Chromebooks, John F. Kennedy Middle School will have 35 and each elementary school should have 25.

The Chromebook, a product of Google, differs from a laptop in that it is “purely an Internet device,” Rota explained. It has a Chrome operating system, as opposed to Windows or Mac, and uses Google Docs for word processing, he said.

In early August, 40 educators took part in a three-day professional development conference in technology at JFK. The Northampton Education Foundation provided the money for 40 Chromebooks for faculty to use during the conference and then keep, Rota said.

“When you get teachers excited, it’s a good thing because they pass it on to their kids,” he said.

Rota added that many school districts are moving to a “one-to-one” model, in which there is one electronic device for every student and staff member, and that is the goal for Northampton, although it will take time to get there.

Northampton High School principal Bryan Lombardi said he believes WiFi will be a fun and interesting educational enhancement for students and teachers.

“I think it’s going to provide doors of opportunity that were not there in the past,” he said.

Getting acquainted

New Superintendent John Provost is already a step ahead in the switch to the high-speed world, having joined Twitter three years ago when he began his previous job as superintendent of North Brookfield public schools. His screen name is @john_provost.

“I found that after the first snow day, I get a lot of kid followers, because I usually announce it on Twitter before anywhere else,” he said. He now has nearly 600 followers.

Provost, 43, of Easthampton, began his new role July 1, and since then has had over 30 meetings with people in Northampton, he said during an interview in his office late last month. So far, Provost said he has mostly met with administrators, but hopes to have more meetings with teachers and parents. “They bring a different perspective,” he added.

The biggest difference between Northampton and North Brookfield is the size of the district, Provost said. North Brookfield had one elementary school and one junior-senior high school, all on the same campus.

“I was able to observe just about every classroom just about every day,” he said. “That won’t be the case in Northampton.”

Provost has also been a special education director for Holyoke and Agawam, and said that he will rely upon the skills he developed working in these larger districts when it comes to getting to know the Northampton schools. While in North Brookfield he could tour the whole district whenever there was extra time in his schedule, but in Agawam and Holyoke he had to schedule all his appointments.

For now, he looks forward to the return of students.

“Summertime is a very busy time around the superintendent’s office,” he said, but at the same time, there is a “certain kind of dryness because you’re not able to see kids on a daily basis.”

Other changes in Northampton include plans for new play structures at the Bridge Street and Jackson Street schools, which recently said goodbye to their former playscapes.

For students entering the high school, there is the first-ever, parent-freshmen transition event from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Aug. 26 at the school. Incoming freshmen will be able to pick up their schedule and daily planner, and hopefully ease any anxieties they and their parents might have about the change, said Lombardi.

“Transition to high school is not only a transition for students,” he added. “It’s a transition for parents.”

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.