School board approves $6.8 million for student computers, technology upgrades

Jan. 09, 2013 @ 06:52 PM

The Union County Board of Education talked about student-tailored learning programs using technology at its Tuesday night meeting.

Union County Public Schools missed the qualifying score for the Race to the Top grant by eight-tenths of a point. But Superintendent Mary Ellis has her sights set on other grants to help fund the school.

Her staff intends to move forward with a personalized learning infrastructure, which involves learner-driven classrooms, mobile access, public policy and partnerships. Ellis told the school board Tuesday night that she is still working toward a "my size fits me" education model, opposed to a "one size fits all" model. 

Ellis and Mike Webb, deputy superintendent of instructional technology and operations, said that providing connectivity for children in poverty is one of their top priorities. They are in negotiations to create mobile "hot spots" throughout the community or to make sure that devices have 3G, which allows them to connect to the internet without a network. 

They are also looking to tackle the "technology cliff" facing elementary schools. A lot of the technology in elementary schools were decommissioned because it could no longer meet the demands of the classroom, Webb explained. 

The district is proposing to take the netbooks provided to middle school students through the 1:1 laptop initiative, scrub and clean them, then give them to students in grades 3 through 5. Elementary schools would provide their own mobile laptop carts a cost of about $1,600, according to a presentation given Tuesday night. 

Students in grades 6 through 12 would receive Chromebooks. It has cloud storage, is data secured, has wireless and 3G capability, a good battery life and other qualities.

It would cost the district about $6.8 million to provide a Chromebook to every student. But, the district has some money saved to pay for the new equipment.

Soon all testing will be done online, therefore students need to have access and understand how to use the technology, Ellis said. There is also a push to do away with textbooks and replace them with electronic textbooks. Ellis said she discussed that with Rep. Craig Horn earlier.

The "future logic model" as it is called, would also provide each teacher with a Lenovo Thinkpad at no cost to the district. 

Webb and Ellis also recommended implementing a user fee for the students to cover repair and replacing lost items. The proposed fees are $25 for students not receiving free or reduced lunch and $15 for students receiving reduced lunch. The fee would be waived for students receiving free lunch.

They also recommended creating special purpose labs to "repurpose, reuse and refresh" the equipment.

The school board voted unanimously to move forward with the Chromebooks and begin speaking with vendors.