Educational non-profit RISTE rents rooms at Gorton Admin building

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The spacious Gorton Administration Building now has a new tenant – one that will hopefully help increase the efficiency of new technological efforts that school administrators have made a priority in the district over the past few years.

The Rhode Island Society of Technology Educators (RISTE), a state nonprofit organization tasked with the mission of providing technological leadership, training and group purchasing options to Rhode Island educational districts, has signed a two-year lease to occupy two rooms in the basement of the Gorton building.

“It certainly is a good fit,” said John Bilotta, executive director for RISTE. “We had looked at commercial space but it felt right to be in a school and in a school setting. That's our focus and that's where we want to be...It's going to be a resource not just for Warwick but for teachers across the state.”

One room, formerly the Gorton Middle School’s library office, will become an office space for Bilotta (who had been working out of his home), and the other will become an instructional teaching space for training sessions and professional development. The lease began on Sept. 1 and RISTE has already started moving in. They will hold a board meeting on Wednesday, the first official event for them at Gorton.

Bilotta explained in an interview on Monday that RISTE would be paying $1,500 a month into the Warwick Public Schools budget for the space, and that having a permanent space to organize and meet will afford RISTE the ability to organize much more structured and adaptable training sessions and professional development opportunities.

“It’s been difficult to beg borrow and steal workshop space and more than anything it's hard to plan ahead,” Bilotta said. “Educators are very busy and to have a dedicated site that we know we can count on, it’s going to be easier to plan out professional development opportunities throughout the state and I think it will create a better program.”

By renting space in what used to be the Gorton Middle School’s “quiet room,” RISTE plans to set up an instructional learning space that they hope to make into a model classroom for the future of technology-integrated instruction, where teachers from all over the state can come to get acquainted with new advances in hardware (like Promethean Boards), software (like Google Classroom tools) and innovative classroom designs.

However these plans are still in the initial phase, and there is no timeline established for when this model classroom may be realized, or what exactly it will ultimately look like.

“It’s a little bit open ended and don't know exactly what it's going to look like,” said Warwick Director of Technology, Doug Alexander, who also was recently voted in as one of the 12 members of the RISTE board. “I’m hoping that because it's so accessible we can leverage Warwick teacher involvement. If we can get a Promethean Board installed in there we can do training sessions in there and learn how to integrate it into specific math and history lessons...Those are the things I want to realize.”

“It’s a little too early to tell right now,” concurred Bilotta on a timetable. “I can tell you we will certainly be having workshops and events going on October, whether or not it’s an innovative classroom space by October I don’t know. It could be folding tables and chairs...Sometimes you have to have a concept and have a space and then you can go out and look for funding.”

Bilotta, who taught for 22 years at the elementary level in North Kingstown, said that he hopes to secure funding from grants and meet with potential vendors for furniture to show the possibilities of modern instruction to teachers across the state. He said he understands why teachers are sometimes reluctant to implement widespread changes in how they teach, especially in regards to new technology.

“There's a lot of responsibility for teachers,” Bilotta said. “I think people are reluctant because they're committed to their kids and their craft and they want to make sure they're doing right by their kids and they want them to be successful. So they have to reach a comfort level before saying they have that skill in their tool belt.”

Alexander hopes that by RISTE moving into Warwick, teachers will be able to successfully integrate more technology into their lessons and move the district ahead in a forward-thinking and positive way.

“People from all other districts are going to come here and we get to not only meet and network with them, but they get to see from this experience now that Warwick is a district that is, in regards to technology, looking forward,” he said. “Which hasn't always been true.”

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