Editor's note: This is the fifth article in a series on local schools preparing for the new year.

CATAWISSA RR - Southern Columbia Area is expanding technology upgrades in the 2013-14 school year, allowing the 1,458 students in elementary, middle and high school who are returning Tuesday better access to the digital age.

Students in all subject areas and grade levels in the high school will be included in the district's Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) program in the high school. While 85 students took advantage of the program when implemented last year, Superintendent Paul Caputo is anticipating even more students will use their own laptops, computers or tablets on the district's upgraded wireless classroom network.

As part of the BYOT program, "Our high school staff has received professional development in transitioning their classrooms to use more, if not all, digital resources, and learn how to use the many tools that they can incorporate into their instruction," Caputo said.

Laptop computers will be available in the classrooms for students who do not have a digital device for school, he said.

New laptops

Earlier this month, it was announced the district received 150 Chrome notebook computers for a pilot program for eighth-grade algebra students to replace their textbooks.

Brenda Monick, director of curriculum, instruction and technology, told the board Monday night the eventual goal is to expand the program to eventually replace all district textbooks with notebook computers.

"Our goal is to make all students independent, responsible digital 21st century learners, and to transition our entire district in providing an enhanced learning environment by harnessing the many digital tools and resources available to engage students in their learning," Caputo said.

Students will be allowed to use technology devices, such as digital picture/video cameras, wireless laptop or tablet computers and other devices capable of capturing and transmitting data or images on district property during instructional time in relation to the curriculum.

The program allows one device per student and the device must have wireless Internet access, a web browser and word processing capability. All further uses of the electronic devices are not permitted and, if abused, the privilege will be taken away.

Other tech upgrades

In addition to BYOT and purchasing laptops, the district has implemented several other technology upgrades with its servers and software and the handsets that run the digital phone systems.

Also, the district will be using Sapphire as its student information system, replacing PowerSchool.

Unlike PowerSchool, Caputo said the new program includes functions such as Individualized Education Programs (IEP) writing and student health reporting, which were previously maintained in separate programs.

It will allow parents and students online access to attendance, grades and assignments, he said.

The district is also offering e-Bridge Academy to students who want to be enrolled in cyber school.

The program will provide administration with the ability to manage the curriculum of their students and track student progress, and it will also allow the students to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities, use all district resources and receive diplomas from Southern.

The district recently updated the digital device and acceptable use policy to include aspects of using online tools, particularly social media, responsibly, Caputo said.

High school

The high school, where there are 447 students enrolled for the upcoming school year, will introduce Response to Instruction and Intervention (RtII), which refers to the use of a standards-aligned, comprehensive school improvement and/or multi-tiered system of support for implementing the state Standards Aligned System (SAS).

As part of the RtII program, students will be given benchmark assessment three times during the school year, and teachers will analyze data from this assessment and place students in groups based on weaknesses and strengths, Caputo said.

Other students may also receive enrichment programs during RtII periods, he added.

The intent of RtII is to improve learning as efficiently, effectively and equitably as possible for all students, including students with disabilities.

Caputo said three new high school courses will be added as electives to the business technology department. Advanced Applications will provide in-depth applications of spreadsheets and databases, Digital Design will teach students how to create professional output-ready layouts for a variety of products and Video Production will teach students broadcasting and video communications technologies.

Middle school

The middle school, where 463 students are enrolled, will implement schedule changes to increase instructional time in mathematics and will also use RtII.

Caputo said students in fifth through seventh grade will have a double period of mathematics to ensure all standards are being taught within the curriculum.

The math programs will allow students to have Algebra I in eight-grade in preparation for the Keystone Exams, he said.

The middle school will also continue school-wide positive behavior initiatives, Caputo said.

"This program will create a school culture that highlights positive choices while holding students accountable for not meeting expectations," Caputo said.

There's also the Student Assistance Program (SAP), which consists of a team of school staff to aid in identifying and supporting students who are experiencing behaviors and academic difficulties that pose a barrier to learning and success in school.

Elementary school

Parents of the 548 students in the elementary school will no longer be allowed to pick students up in front of the building; parents will only be allowed to pick up their students at the school's gymnasium doors, where two staff members will be on duty, Caputo said.

"When a parent arrives to pick up their child, the staff member will confirm the authenticity of the arrangements and will then escort the child to his or her parents. This new pick-up location and procedure is an extra measure designed to enhance students safety," he said.

Additional notes

Several projects were completed recently, including the painting of hallways, installation of energy-efficient lighting and windows in the high school and the installation of carpet and vinyl composition tiles in each of the three buildings, Caputo said.

"The staff has worked hard throughout the summer, and has done a tremendous job making the appearance of our buildings and grounds very inviting and welcoming," he said.

An art gallery and a hall of fame, both located in the high school, will showcase the work and achievements of Southern students.

New staff, as a result of resigning employees or those on leave, include Leanne Roughton, seventh-grade English; Josh Grozier, technology education; Cheyenne Colanato, fifth-grade social studies; Kristie Anderson, business technology; Loreen Romania, long term fourth-grade substitute; Casey Combe, long-term special education substitute; Jonathan Reed, technology support specialist; Victoria Kozlek, gifted teacher, and Sally Meyer, first-grade teacher.