Screenshot of seven people in school board meeting

Plans to Bring New Learning Technology to WCCUSD Schools Raise Equity Questions

Screenshot of seven people in school board meeting

The West Contra Costa school board unanimously voted Wednesday to use $760,000 in grant funds to buy more than 100 ActivePanels, a type of interactive display. (Screenshot captured by Samantha Kennedy / The CC Pulse)

By Samantha Kennedy

Some instructional materials in the West Contra Costa Unified School District are over 20 years old, but the district says it is committed to providing its students with some of the latest technology to enhance learning. 

In phase two of a four-phase implementation, nine WCCUSD schools will receive Promethean ActivPanels that will allow all teachers at the school sites to use in their classrooms. DeJean, Ellerhorst, Fairmont, Hanna Ranch, Helms, Shannon, Stewart, Valley View and West County Mandarin will receive the interactive projection displays that replace whiteboards and smartboards. 

Over 200 classrooms participated in a pilot program during the 2022-23 school year that drew praise from teachers and students, with many saying the devices increased student engagement. Every school received a few to rotate between classes. 

Board President Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy said at Wednesday’s meeting that no matter what school site he goes to, people always tell him they want more of the ActivPanels. 

The board unanimously voted to use $760,000 in grant funds to buy more than 100 ActivePanels and is expected to vote on phase three of the implementation at the beginning of 2024. The board voted in June this year to spend $2 million on the first phase. All phases are expected to cost $5 million in total. 

While the board agreed that it was important for students to have the tools to learn, trustee Mister Phillips questioned if the implementation was an equitable one. Schools with 100% implementation in classrooms are “overwhelmingly suburban” schools, according to Phillips. 

“I’m not saying it shouldn’t get to everybody,” he said. “I’m just saying as the rollout happens, how do we make sure that it’s proportionate” to the number of urban and suburban schools the district has.  

>>>Read: ‘Kennedy Is Still Stuck’: School Board Addresses Equity Issues at Richmond High Schools

Though every school is planned to have the interactive boards in each classroom, schools must demonstrate that their site is ready to fully implement ActivPanels before that can happen. School site leaders and the Ed Tech team make this decision. 

Of the schools that have full implementation, Phillips said only one-third of them are urban schools. 

“Please correct this,” Phillips asked staff. 

Superintendent Kenneth Hurst and Gonzalez-Hoy said they didn’t believe there was an equity problem in the implementation process. Hurst said that, as he was listening to district staff read off the list of schools with 100% implementation, he believed there was an equitable distribution. 

“I don’t want us to leave with anyone saying that there wasn’t (any equity) because I actually disagree,” Gonzalez-Hoy said. “I think that there was very much equity in mind.” 

He said some school staff have even said that they are not ready for full implementation of the ActivPanels and that phasing out is a good idea. 

Clerk Jamela Smith-Folds acknowledged that there are equity issues in the district and that every policy or project implemented should be looked at through “an equity lens.” 

The next regular WCCUSD school board meeting is on Nov. 15.

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