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Monday, May 5, 2014, 6:00 am

Technology upgrades are next step for Napa Valley College transformation

School’s TECH!2014 initiative aims to raise $500,000

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    NAPA — Leaders at Napa Valley College and its independent foundation are looking to the public to fund a wave of classroom and campus technology upgrades, hoping to continue the momentum of more than a decade of sweeping facility improvements made possible by a voter-approved bond in 2002.

    McCarthy Library and Learning Center

    The McCarthy Library and Learning Center was among the largest projects made possible by 2002′s Measure N.

    Pivoting on the completion of the college’s most recent 10-year master plan in 2013, those improvements, funded potentially under a combination of private donations and a possible new bond measure, would be among the next steps in a long-term transformation of the 70-year-old institution. While 2002′s Measure N helped fund more than $168 million in upgrades, fast-moving trends in classroom technology and project-based learning have come to the forefront as the campus orients its goals for 2023.

    “The traditional classroom is rapidly giving way to learning environments that are much more hands-on and technology-driven than ever seen before in our nation’s history,” said Ronald Kraft, superintendent and president of Napa Valley College. “Many of NVC’s 40-to-50-year-old classrooms must still be modernized to meet the needs and demands of students who are seeking educational opportunities which will lead to jobs and careers in the 21st-Century workplace and for which our industries are seeking qualified employees.”

    Napa Valley College finished utilizing the $133.8 million in funding from Measure N last year, using bond revenue with other funding sources to complete dozens of projects at its main Napa campus and Upper Valley campus in St. Helena.

    Among those projects has been a new $23 million McCarthy Library and Learning Center completed in 2010, one that has boosted visitor rates from 200 to nearly 2,000 per day compared to the old facility, according to college officials. A new $30 million performing arts center has helped triple audiences for college performances, and has supported new programs including the launch of an associate’s degree in performing arts.

    Other improvements included an energy-efficient central chiller plant, a new life sciences building and a solar facility that provides around 30 percent of the college’s power needs.

    Leaders at the college credited those improvements with helping to support student engagement and outcomes that exceed those for California community colleges as a whole. They cited a 51 percent completion rate for degrees, certificates and in-state public school transfers that exceeds the state average of 48 percent, according to the most recent Student Success Scorecard by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.

    Yet ongoing success for students may increasingly hinge on the availability of technology and approaches that resemble those of many modern working environments, said Lissa Gibbs, college spokeswoman and executive director of the Napa Valley College Foundation.

    She pointed to a closely watched movement occurring at the high school level in Napa County, in particular the project-based and technology-rich approaches seen at Napa’s New Technology High School and American Canyon High School in American Canyon.

    “For many years it was the pen and paper, chalk and chalkboard model that worked well,” she said. “That’s not the model for business anymore, and not the best approach for education.”

    The foundation officially kicked off a new “TECH!2014″ initiative on March 4, with hopes to raise $500,000 for upgrades to 20 classrooms over the next two years. That work would represent around 40 percent of the classrooms pegged for those upgrades over the next five years, at a cost of around $25,000 each, according to the foundation.

    Upgrades may include equipment like large-screen monitors, new hardware for connecting devices, sound equipment, Wi-Fi connectivity and touch-screen interfaces for instructors and students — all with a goal of providing “real time” access to educational resources, said Bruce Cakebread, president of the foundation.

    He cited a current effort to bring Wi-Fi connectivity to the entirety of the Napa Valley College campuses as an indicator of the kind of infrastructure that will support new teaching and learning styles for academic, career and community-based programs.

    “This wireless environment will increase the number of possibilities for research in areas that students eat, rest, study or to work in groups as part of the project-based learning paradigm that is used in so many of current programs,” he said. “However, our staff and faculty are not yet able to teach in a stand-alone ‘bring your own device’ environment.”

    Funding to embark on other long-term infrastructure projects at the campus  – including a new technology building and various other campus improvements — has yet to be fully identified, and college officials are preparing to embark on a public polling campaign to gauge interest in the potential for a new bond measure. The college had attempted to raise an additional $178 million for campus upgrades through the so-called Measure L in 2008, but that measure was narrowly defeated by voters. The size of the potential bond and other elements of the proposal remain under consideration, Ms. Gibbs said.

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