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by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark reporter

The Park Hill School District failed to muster adequate support Tuesday for a 32-cent tax levy increase that school officials say would have provided funding to evolve from a traditional classroom setting into a 21st-century skills classroom with laptops for every student.

A final tally indicates 3,219 votes opposed the levy and 2,067 votes were in favor. That equates to 61 percent opposed to 39 percent in favor.
Voter turnout in the district was 12.3 percent, a tad less than the 13 percent voter turnout in the county as a whole.

On Tuesday night, Superintendent Dr. Scott Springston said he is disappointed by the outcome of the election, but indicated the district would continue to focus on providing a “technology- rich classroom.” Park Hill officials labeled the proposed program as FLiP, short for Future Learner Project.

“The district is committed to increasing instructional technology in our classrooms,” said Springston. “Obviously, we need some time to take a step back to review the numbers, and try to poll our community to see what people said and to be able to look at the numbers to see how many of our voters actually went to the polls. I think through all that process we'll have conversations with the board and determine what the next steps will be with the Future Learner Project.”

“As far as technology in the classroom, that is definitely a direction that the board will take with our students, but to what extent I guess is what we are going to have to visit as a board and community,” he added.

The proposed 32-cent levy required a simple majority of votes to pass. The measure would have distanced students from the more conventional and proven teaching method.

Although Springston has yet to examine the official voter turnout in the Park Hill School District, he says it is important to solicit the response of a larger collection of people.

“I would like to see more people engaged in the process by voting,” said Springston.

Dr. Springston said the district has a reserve balance to sufficiently fund the current state of the FliP program through the end of the 2014-2015 school year.

“We will spend the next few weeks or months to try to figure out what it looks like beyond 2014-2015, and more importantlywhat will it cost and then how we will cover that cost,” Springston said.

Should the district decide to press forward with the implementation of the FliP program, traditional classroom instruction would shift into a classroom environment that fosters the development of 21st-century skills. Students would be equipped with their own laptop device for school use and use at home.
District officials claimed the program would create a learning environment that is more student-driven. Teachers would spend considerably less time lecturing. Instead, their attention would focus on merely assisting students as they complete their research and class projects.

The district views the laptop as an extension of the classroom and believes the laptops will promote and expand student learning outside the classroom. District officials say the learning environment will shift to an environment where students can learn independently inside or outside the classroom. Laptops will allow students to interact with people from all over the world, view educational video clips, and take virtual tours.

But some worried the approach may open the door to a virtual classroom versus an actually physical classroom. Other parents wondered if textbooks will simply become a foreign object to students.

Prior to the election, the district proposed implementing the program slowly over the next several years. This school year, all fifth grade classrooms evolved into a 21st-century learning environment. By the 2015-2016 school year, the district proposed that fifth through eighth grades would be entirely flipped to 21st-century classrooms.

Under the original plan, during the 2016-2017 school year, FliP would be implemented at the high school level. The district also planned on increasing the number of technological tools available to kindergarten through the fourth grade.

The district also planned on using a portion of the revenue generated by the levy to pay for proposed security enhancements and safety upgrades at school entryways throughout the district's buildings.

The district proposed allocating a portion of the funds on advancing video surveillance and emergency communication systems in their schools. The proposed improvements were based upon recommendations from an independent safety audit conducted during the school year.

Despite an overwhelming loss, the superintendent took time to thank all the people in the community.

“I just want to thank all the parents, the community, the business support that has been out there, and the commitment in the Park Hill School District. It is a great school district, and the board of education and the superintendent represent the community. It's the community's school that they entrust us with,” said Springston.