TOWANDA - Towanda Junior/Senior High School Principal Dennis Peachey broke new ground at the school this week when he proposed that the school begin using online versions of textbooks for two courses,

This would be the first time that the Towanda Junior/Senior High School has used online textbooks on a large-scale basis, he said.

Using an online textbook "is an excellent option" for a student, and textbooks are now increasingly available in online versions, he said. Some online textbooks incorporate additional features, such as videos and graphs, that a hard-copy version of the textbook would not have, he said.

Peachey discussed his proposal to use online textbooks for the two courses at Monday's meeting of the Towanda Area School Board, where the school district's business manager also announced that the district will achieve $899,481 in savings through a recent refinancing of bonds that it had issued in 2007.

At the meeting, the school board also voted unanimously to move Elementary Principal Pamela Hosterman to a new post in the school district, namely "principal of curriculum & instruction for grades K-12."

Online courses

Peachey said he wants the Towanda School District to purchase a new biology textbook and a new Civics & Government textbook, and have the students use online versions of the textbooks when they are at home.

Using an online textbook would not be a problem, since there are only a very few students who do not have access to a computer at home, he said. Students would be provided with an access code to be able to use the textbook online, he said.

Those students who don't have access to a computer at home would be provided with a hard copy of the textbook to use at home, he said.

And there would be a set of the textbooks that would remain in the classroom for students to use while they are in class, he said.

Peachey said that, all in all, he wants the school district to purchase only 40 copies of each textbook. By contrast, about 130 students would be taking the biology course or the Civics & Government course at any one time, he said.

Using online versions of the textbooks would save the school district money, since the school district would have to purchase fewer "traditional" textbooks, he said. And having most of the hard-copy textbooks remain at school would result in less wear and tear on the textbooks, he said.

The online versions of the biology and Civics & Government textbooks will contain everything that the hard-copy textbooks contain, he said.

The new biology and Civics & Government textbooks are needed partly because they are in line with the state's new Keystone Exams, which students will have to pass in order obtain their high school diplomas, he said. The older textbooks that will be replaced are also outdated or in poor condition, he said.

The school board has not yet voted to purchase the new textbooks, and whether to have most students use an online version of the textbooks at home. Those votes could occur next month, school board President Pete Alesky said.

In the past, the school district has used online versions of a few textbooks, but only on a limited basis, he said. For example, there had been some students who "experimented" with using an online version of a math textbook in the past, Peachy said.

He said the school district has gotten "positive feedback" on the use of online textbooks.

Towanda School District Business Manager Doreen Secor announced that the school district had recently refinanced approximately $9 million in bonds that the school district had issued in 2007, which will yield a total savings of $899,481 for the school district.

"It's a lot of money" that will be saved, Secor said.

School Board Vice-president Bob Fetterman called the size of the savings "awesome."

The savings will be achieved over the next nine years, Secor said.

The school district faces a problem of some students entering kindergarten or pre-kindergarten (K-4) with a deficient background, in the sense that they are not as academically prepared to start school as other students, Hosterman said.

To help address the problem, the school district will place a stronger emphasis on language development in the school district's K-4 program, starting with the 2012-13 school year, Hosterman said.

Hosterman also announced that, at this point, it appears the school district will be receiving $70,000 less this year in Title I funds than it received last year. Title 1 funds, which are provided by the federal government, are used to provide "interventions" in math and reading for low-income students, she said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.