Gloucester Township Superintendent John Bilodeau keeping up with today’s digital age in his district
Bilodeau and his administration implemented full day kindergarten for the first time and provided every sixth to eighth grader with Chromebooks.
When you are the superintendent of the largest K-8 school district in the state, each day is sure to bring something new. Gloucester Township Superintendent John Bilodeau said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Everyday is different, and that’s what neat about it,” Bilodeau said. “You don’t know the script everyday.”
There are 6,400 students are served by eight elementary schools and three middle schools, and more than 1,000 employees work in the Gloucester Township School District.
Bilodeau has been a part of the district for 13 years. He started as the school business administrator in 2003 before being promoted to assistant superintendent. He’s in his fifth year as superintendent and is also the president of the Camden County Association of School Administrators. His main focus for the 2016–2017 school year is on two initiatives — full-day kindergarten and distributing Chromebooks to every students in grades six to eight.
It’s the first time full-day kindergarten has been offered in the district.
“I think our students needed a full-day kindergarten,” Bilodeau stated. “For many years, parents had requested it. We were working on it, but it’s difficult when you have 17 to 18 classes you have to double because physical space is tough when you want to double a program.”
Bilodeau and his staff developed a program designed to prepare students academically, socially and emotionally for a successful transition to first grade. He said the response has been extremely positive from teachers and parents.
Before the Chromebook initiative, the district had already changed some of its programs, including the life skills program to digital literacy because of the quick advancement of technology.
“We realized the one computer class per cycle for students was not sufficient for the current time,” Bilodeau said. “We wanted to give students more access to technology, so the digital literacy was the advent of moving into more Chromebook based.”
The district bought the majority of the Chromebooks in 2012 when technology was becoming more advanced, before the Chromebook initiative was put in place.
“That’s when we really started to double down on purchases of technology because when I came in, I felt we were behind on having enough technology to administer the computer-based tests (PARCC),” he said. “A district this size, you better have the up-to-date technology or you would look unprepared in the eyes of the public.”
Sixth and seventh graders started to receive the Chromebooks last year.
“This year, they are now seventh and eighth graders,” he said. “By the end of September, we had issued 2,275 Chromebooks, and we’re quite excited because that’s now going down to fifth grade.“
Bilodeau said the fifth graders have the Chromebooks as well because of PARCC.
With the technology evolving and the transition to Chromebooks, it’s been a big change for everyone involved, but more so for the parents and staff.
“You don’t go to Chapter 5 in a textbook to flip it now,” he explained. “You go online with passwords and different login features. It’s a change, but any young kid now can grab a smartphone and just go through so many apps and be much more sophisticated than the parents who really own the device. It’s a digital age, and these kids are so advanced and smart with it.”
Today’s digital age has brought its rewards and challenges, and Bilodeau and his administration will keep giving the best resources to their students so they get the best education possible.
“I think the challenges are to bring the students and families what they really deserve,” he said. “I thought kindergarten deserved to have that (full day) program in place. I really think the Chromebook was a big thing to keep us on par. There’s a lot of good school districts that do a lot of good things, and sometimes keeping up with that excellence of education is a challenge because everyone wants the best for their kids. The rewards aren’t necessarily when the people call and tell you what you’re not doing, but it’s from those conversations or little notes you get at random that make it all worthwhile.”