District goes digital, with one laptop for every student

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Last modified: 2/22/2016 5:51:41 PM
PETERBOROUGH — One laptop for every student.

The ConVal School District will provide every middle school and high school student a Chromebook laptop by the 2017-18 school year, as textbooks, homework and lessons all go digital.

“Any time, anywhere, any place, any pace,” said Sarah Hale, the technology integration specialist at Great Brook School, in a presentation to the Education Committee Tuesday. In a separate meeting that followed the presentation, the School Board approved allocating money for the purchases.

The district already has devices available for use at the middle schools — South Meadow School and Great Brook School —and ConVal high school. It offers desktop computers, laptops, tablets and Chromebooks — a “thin client” laptop with most of its data stored in the cloud — to use in a computer lab or a classroom if a teacher requests it. With the board’s approval, the district can go one step further. In this “one-to-one” model, each middle and high school student will have their own Chromebook they will use in school and can take home.

Administrators couldn’t emphasize enough how essential it is for students to move out of the “print, paper world” and into the digital one. In the presentation Hale and three other administrators gave to the Education Committee, they brought up a picture of students typing on laptops while three-ring binders were stacked on their desks. “We’re at this step right now,” said Hale. According to research the administrators distributed, the U.S. Department of Education found students that had access to a computer anywhere, anytime “became more creative, more collaborative and better writers,” while University of Kentucky researchers wrote “improvements in writing, literacy, science, exam scores and GPAs all have been noted in various research studies.” ConVal has recognized the benefits of technology in schools, but approached a one-to-one model cautiously because of how much it could cost. After a decade of research, a comprehensive proposal from administrators and the affordability of devices, the board was ready Tuesday to say “yea.”

The district will buy the Chromebooks over three years. It chose Chromebooks over other devices because they are about one-third less than other laptops or tablets, and can be programmed and managed online. An 11-inch Chromebook is $205, while a 13-inch Chromebook is $325, according to the proposal. There are already 266 Chromebooks in use at the middle schools and high school. To implement the one-to-one model, the district first must upgrade the technology infrastructure of the three schools in 2016-17. It expects the upgrades to cost $65,400, according to calculations Brian Grattan, the district’s administrator, provided Tuesday. It would then buy 662 more Chromebooks in 2017-18. These additional Chromebooks, as well as adapters and batteries, would cost about $235,000 to about $255,000, according to the latest pricing. Over the next two years, the 266 Chromebooks the district already owns must be replaced. These replacements would each cost just under $90,000

Although board member Rich Cahoon was unabashedly on-board with the proposal, he acknowledged it would be expensive. “I know it’s a painful number,” he said. “We can deal with it.”

Marian Alese, the business administrator, said the cost of proposal is comparable to how much the district would spend to replace outdated devices. Included in the 2016-17 proposed operating budget is $225,328 to replace equipment.

Gib West, the dean of faculty at the high school, said money will be saved not having to buy newer versions of textbooks, since they can be downloaded onto Chromebooks. Most textbooks he said the high school uses have digitized versions.

A Chromebook will be available for each student, although any student or family who wish to buy their own device can, said Helfried Zrzavy, the director of technology at the high school. Administrators have considered either buying insurance for each device at $20 to $25 a year, or a student and their parents becoming responsible for paying to fix or replace the device if it is damaged, said Grattan. The district also hopes to make arrangements with its member towns and libraries so if a student lacks Internet access at home, it can use the WIFI at municipal buildings.

Benji Rosen can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228, or brosen@ledgertranscript.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenjiRosenMLT.

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