South Fayette invention event

The Almanac

South Fayette students play a game using a robotic hand to pick up and place a ball in a white tube.

If all goes to plan, a few dozen Lego robots will be in place at the South Fayette Intermediate School by this October.

During its Aug. 28 meeting, the school board approved a possible $16,851 expense for the 41 additional robots to be used in third through fifth grades, on top of the seven already in place. Building principal Thomas Kaminski and district director of technology and innovation Aileen Owens talked about the shifts in STEAM programming with the hire of a new teacher June.

In looking at the programming, Kaminski and Owens said they consider it necessary to add robots so that students will have more one-on-one time with them. Owens added the hope was the district would learn if they had received a grant in about two weeks that would fund not only the initial cost but three years of robot purchases totaling $50,000-plus, bringing the total number of robots in the intermediate building to 90.

But members of the board, including Alan Vezzi and Teresa Burroughs, took issue with the fact that the large purchase was not previously brought before the board so they could be accounted for in the budget. They asked how long administrators knew a purchase this integral to instruction was necessary. Kaminski said that the scheduling and staffing shifted after the budget was finalized. The sudden measure, added to the agenda during the meeting, passed unanimously.

“Merry Christmas,” Burroughs said after the approval, with Vezzi, the board’s president, adding:

“Don’t do it again.”

Director of finance Brian Tony said if needed, the money could be taken from the contingency fund, as it is too early in the school year to pull from elsewhere. The money could be replenished from another fund before the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Kaminski and Owens said the Lego Mindstorm robots should be more sturdy than the models students currently have in the classrooms, and would allow for new programming opportunities. It is also difficult to get replacement parts for the Vex robots intermediate students now use.

Owens also talked about a trip to Pikeville, Ky., to assist with economic development and the future of work in the region because of the diminishing coal mining industry. She and elementary STEAM teacher Melissa Unger were set to be there two days, Aug. 29 and 30. Owens said the goal was to assist other districts to develop the use of technology in the classroom, but also improve the pathway at South Fayette to continue to be innovative.

In other business:

  • It was announced that the district will soon begin its strategic planning, meeting with community stakeholders in September and October. The district also will look for feedback from teachers, parents and students in eighth through 12th grades.
  • The board decided to proceed with a landslide remediation project on the condition that Civil and Environmental Consultants make a presentation to members before bidding out the work to talk about the process and potential costs. The total project is not to exceed $53,000.
  • As necessitated by recent legislation, the board appointed high school principal Aaron Skrbin as the district’s school safety and security coordinator. Superintendent Kenneth Lockette said Skrbin had already been acting in such a capacity before the appointment.
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