By Eileen FitzGerald

DANBURY — The city’s public schools have made progress acquiring technology needed for teachers and students.

But the district is understaffed to maintain equipment and provide guidance about data necessary to improve teaching and learning, a new report states.

“Technology-wise, we are making strides in putting the computers and devices in front of our students and staff,” Danbury Superintendent Sal Pascarellasaid this week. “It is support for our equipment and staff that we are seriously lacking.”

When the Connecticut Council for Education Reform conducted an audit of the capacity of the district’s data processing and support systems, Pascarella said it found shortcomings.

The New Haven-based group, which presented its findings to the Board of Education on Wednesday night, was charged with determining if the district has the necessary resources and staff capacity to meet performance expectations.

It also was asked to recommend additional supports and systemic changes needed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the department.

The group, which worked at no cost to the district, determined that Danbury Public Schools is one of the fastest growing among comparable school districts, yet it has the lowest per-pupil spending.

The report found the district’s information technology and data teams are understaffed, compared to similar districts, and manage more devices than their peers.

It concluded the district has a limited ability to analyze data and is inconsistent in the forms and methods used to track students.

“When we reviewed the data, it is clear that Danbury has deficiencies in its staff for IT,” CCER Executive Director Jeffrey Villar said. “It also has an increase in student enrollment and they struggle for resources.”

But they are not alone, said Katie Roy, chief operating officer for CCER.

“Danbury is in the same position as many other districts,” Roy said. “This (improve data use) is something that Danbury thinks is important and wants to address and has asked us to find some solutions.”

Finance Director Joe Martino made a presentation to the Board of Education last month that described the district’s technology inventory and ongoing purchase plans.

The district has a technology reserve fund made of unspent funds from the school budget each year.

“Technology is in transition. On a scale of one to 10, we’re a five to six,” Martino told the board. “We’re on our way, but it’s going to take time.”

The district has a leasing ladder for technology acquisition and the schools own about 5,500 computers.

In addition, the district has a bring-your-own-device policy in which high school students bring up to 800 devices a day and the middle school students bring 550 on average.

In 2012, the high school was made wireless and cloud based, which means less technical support is needed, Martino said, and the district also replaced the core server.

But the district must replace 206 teacher laptops at the high school.

At the middle school, there were three computer labs replaced at each middle school and new laptops for all teachers.

At the elementary level, six computer labs and seven wireless grids will be replaced with a state technology grant to upgrade aging infrastructure.

The district also replaced all building level secretary workstations, upgraded all principal laptops, and installed paperless direct deposit and computer-based energy management, camera systems and card access.

But, to be ready for the state-mandated Smarter Balanced Assessments next year, Martino said Danbury High will need a large investment in desktop models and additional mobile laptops to have enough computers for testing.

The middle school level has the technology needed to test all the students, but the elementary level will need more carts that hold enough laptops for each class.

And, Martino said, there is a list of needs for the future.

Villar said his group will work with Danbury officials on a strategic plan to improve data collection.

“We have a good supply system for the technology equipment,” Pascarella said. “Now, we need a support system that would not be overbearing but would be sustainable enough for us to implement it. That’s our hope.”

Read the original story here.