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12/19/2013 3:00:00 PM
School Board approves technology plan: Computers for all middle, high school students

After hearing a report from the school corporation's Technology Committee on Monday night, the Switzerland County School Board set in motion a plan that will provide a Chromebook personal computer to every student in grades 7-12.

The plan, which calls for the eventual purchase of 775 of the computers, was estimated by the Technology Committee to cost $279,187.50, which includes warranties, additional chargers, and management licenses. The plan will also provide a Chromebook to every staff member in both schools.

Switzerland County Middle School teacher Adam Cole, who spoke on behalf of the committee, told the school board that the committee believes that the current program, which uses ipads at the middle school level, has never reached it's full potential because of a variety of different factors.

"Not only do we need to provide the technology, but we also need to provide the help necessary so we can properly use the technology," Adam Cole said. "Our technology team works very hard to keep everything going, but we also need our teachers to be trained on how they can best use the technology in their classrooms."

Adam Cole also said that the Technology Committee is also looking into a program offered by Sprint, where the Chromebooks would be purchased at a more discounted rate; the corporation would pay a monthly service fee; and the computers would be exchanged for new ones every three years. He said that once the committee looks at this proposal, it is possible that it could save the corporation more money.

"The technology committee is attempting to examine, identify, and analyze challenges that keep the corporation from achieving the committee's vision by providing well thought out solutions," The committee's introduction to the school board said. "...In order to fulfill our vision, the committee will put an emphasis on improving staff readiness and skill level by placing professional development as a cornerstone of our decision making process and take into account the importance of teacher preparation as a key to student learning."

To that end, the committee presented three recommendations to the school board, highlighted by the purchase of the Chromebooks:

- Purchase Chromebooks for grades 7-12, including staff.

- Address staffing needs to implement the technology by hiring two new staff members: one would be a computer technician who would work on 'hardware' issues and computers as they arise; and the other would be a Technology Integration Specialist, who would work with teachers and staff on implementation of the technology at the classroom level.

- The final recommendation is to review the current professional development structure and planning for successful teacher training and development.

The need for an additional computer technician is important, because the committee said that the current staff, led by John Sieglitz, is already stretched thin trying to keep up with the technology that is already in the school system.

Adam Cole showed the school board a rundown of what is currently in the system:

- 1,625 users of technology.

- 584 ipads being used by students and staff.

- 894 computers and laptops being used by students and staff.

- 122 printers.

- 83 access points.

- 52 servers.

- 132 IP phones.

- 203 video cameras.

- 47 switches.

- 4 intercom/bell systems.

- 28 keyless entry doors.

- 2 Direct TV satellite systems with 10 IP streams.

- 108 projectors.

- 102 Smartboards.

- 36 overhead classroom cameras.

- Various fire alarms and HVAC controllers.

All of that technology has to be maintained and updated by technology staff, and there is a need for an additional staff member to help keep everything running when 775 additional devices are introduced into the system.

Adam Cole said that it would be the committee's recommendation to take the current ipads and move them down to the third and fourth grade level for use there, so the Chromebooks would be an additional load onto the system.

Once approved, the committee hopes that everything will be online when the 2014-2015 school year starts on August 1st, 2014.

But as that day gets closer, Adam Cole reminded the board that it isn't good enough simply to provide the students with the computers if the teaching staff is not trained on how to implement the technology.

Because of that, the committee asked the school board to move forward with the program by approving on Monday night the purchase of Chromebooks that can be given to the staff before February 1st, 2014, so that training and professional development can begin.

"Soon after the teachers receive their device the will be given small group training, we're thinking no more than 10 in a group, on basic operations of the device," Adam Cole said. "There will be planned training in February and bi-monthly trainings through the month of May."

The committee said that the training will also be personalized, so that teachers who aren't currently as familiar with using technology in their classrooms will get more basic training, allowing everyone to be more comfortable with the implementation.

"None of this does any good if the staff doesn't know how to use it," Adam Cole said. "If a student walks into a classroom and does this (making a motion with his hand like he's putting something under his desk seat), then it doesn't work. The worst thing is for this technology to be under a student's desk. We have to get it, and we have to use it."

School Board member Wayne Daugherty asked if, by approving the purchase of the Chromebooks for the teachers, in essence the school board was approving the entire plan.

"If we go ahead tonight and approve buying these for the teachers, aren't we really saying that we're going to go all the way with this?" Wayne Daugherty said. "I mean, if we do this and then don't approve getting them for all of the students, then we're wasting this money, aren't we?"

Superintendent Mike Jones said that it was his recommendation that the school board move forward with all of the recommendations, because he sees the need to continue developing technology at all grade levels. He said that he agrees with the committee's report, and that the school board should know that this would be the first step in implementing the entire plan.

Board member Andy Truitt asked about the issue of some students not having access to the Internet at their homes. It was noted during the presentation that one of the things about the Chromebooks is that they have a minimal amount of storage space built into the them, and most of what is saved by the student is stored via the Internet in the "Cloud".

"What happens when a student takes this home to study or work on homework and they don't have Internet?" Andy Truitt asked. "How do they use it?"

Adam Cole said that there was enough storage on the computer to allow a student to take the device home, and, for example, work on a paper for a class. He said that the Chromebook would store the updates and changes, and then when the student got to school and had Internet access, the device would update everything and store it.

The question was also asked about what happens when the Internet is down, and Adam Cole said that issues like that happen, but that teachers have access and experience in traditional teaching methods, and would continue to teach the students.

After more discussion, the motion to purchase the Chromebooks for the staff so that professional development can begin on February 1st was approved.

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