Caledonia Schools aggressively pursuing technology upgrades

By Emily Bialkowski

Caledonia Argus

 

The Caledonia School Board made a loud statement in favor of  technology after supporting a recommendation to spend $75,000 on iPads for every fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grader in the district, among other purchases.

The iPad is a tablet computer that is smaller than a typical laptop, but larger than the average smartphone. The iPad does not include a keyboard, but instead has a touchscreen interface, which is used to control the device.

Technology coordinator Eric Jerviss, along with technology task force members Tina Fruechte and Amy Wild, gave a presentation on why they believe the district should make this investment.

Jerviss said when he began his position a year ago, he became keenly aware of how behind the times the district had become with technology.

“Last spring we got some new equipment into the school. It helped a great deal, but there’s still a number of things we need to do,” he said. “We want to move forward with one-to-one student devices.”

The task force spent time at other schools, discussed the district’s technology plan, went to conferences and worked as a committee to evaluate the options. Jerviss said they looked at training, curriculum, applications and budget issues.

“We picked the iPad for our one-to-one device because it seemed best for us,” Jerviss said.

A total of 135 of these devices will need to be purchased to cover grades four through six and the staff. The district will pay approximately $400 for each device.

The committee also recommended the purchase of an application (software) called Schoology for teachers and students to use on the device.

Schoology will allow teachers to post assignments, tests, important information, provide students feedback, grade work and tests and closely track each student’s progress. Students will have all their work available to them on this device, as well supporting information and feedback from teachers.

Wild and Fruechte expressed a great deal of enthusiasm about the proposal. “It’s a one-stop shop. Everything is right here,” Wild said.

Additionally, students will not need the Internet at home to access information stored on the device.

Schoology will actually grade a student’s work immediately after completion.

“That’s excellent feedback and instant analysis for me, as for them. If there’s a question that everyone in the class struggled with, I’d know,” Wild said.

The School Board had several questions relating to cost, policies and how long the equipment will remain relevant.

“The tough thing about technology is we have no idea what will be the new thing three to five years out,” Jerviss admitted.

The iPad contract will allow the district to lease-to-own the devices so that in three years, the school will have paid them off.

The task force also recommended purchasing Smartboards for the elementary classrooms that don’t already have one; enough iPads so that all grades have at least five to utilize; and new MacBook Pros for the staff.

“What will be the plan for the fifth-grader that takes home this device in their backpack and the dog pees on the thing?” he asked.

Superintendent Ben Barton said the task force will look at creating policies to address such concerns and mentioned instituting a user fee.

“From the districts we studied, more often than not, they do charge some amount,” he said.

McGraw said his son has gone through three cellphones.

“I  hate to see three iPads thrown away,” he said.

Barton said the task force will continue to work on a policy for that.

Also needed as part of this transition will be a person to train students and staff on how to use the devices, which includes the need for additional staffing, Barton warned. He said the 2 percent set aside for teacher development each year could help pay for this support. He also said the school technology fund will help, as well as the district’s one-day bond sale passed in November 2012.

The aforementioned funds cannot be used to pay for teacher salaries, a tough pill to swallow in light of the layoff notices approved the same evening.

 

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