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School administrators propose laptops for all secondary students

Date: 2/27/2014

By Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW – At the School Committee’s Feb. 24 meeting, East Longmeadow Public School administrators detailed a new technology plan with a goal of putting a laptop in the hands of every secondary student by 2017.

East Longmeadow High School principal Gina Flanagan told the committee the plan was “several years in the making” and would not require any increases in the school budget.

“We’re hearing more and more that technology is a must,” she said, pointing out that in addition to colleges and universities utilizing more in their learning, Common Core Standards require technological integration and the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing is computerized. “In Common Core, the technology standards are embedded.”

Under the plan, Birchland Park Middle School and East Longmeadow High School would move to a 1-to-1 student-to-laptop ratio within four years, while elementary schools would integrate iPads into its classroom curriculum.

Laptops would be available through a lease-to-own program in which families would pay a monthly fee of approximately $20. Families who are not financially able to make the payments may receive aid from the district.

Flanagan lobbied for the technological upgrades, speaking of the benefits of “1-to-1” computer learning, including making access to learning materials unlimited, creating more real-world based curriculums, utilizing computerized assessments such as online quizzes that would allow teachers immediate results to better address deficiencies, and fostering greater creativity and innovation.

She also said the program would allow for more “flipped classroom” learning in which a video lecture on subject material is viewed as homework so the students can then learn practical application of the lesson in the classroom.

“This is about improving what we do and the services we can provide our students in the classroom,” Flanagan said.

She also called the plan a cost-effective measure because it would cut down on the time and money spent updating and keeping up outmoded computer labs and laptop carts. She said two of the three current laptop carts in the schools are out of date.

Michael Fredette, principal at Mapleshade School, said an increased investment in technology is a must, given the lack of current resources. He detailed how class teachers compete for time for computer labs and carts, as well as the deficiencies in the technology itself.

He said the tools in the schools were not “seamless,” meaning not all utilize the same operating platforms, hardware and software; the computers are prone to freezing and crashing during lessons; and the Internet through these computers is slow and unreliable. He added that most teacher computers are not mobile.

“It’s really a downer when [the teachers] are all excited about it, they get into the classroom, they get it ready to go and it takes minutes for the machines to turn on, you can’t download your links, the battery life shuts down in the middle of instruction and they don’t want to use it again,” Fredette said. “They don’t want to improve themselves in this area.”

As part of the four-year plan, this year, funding would be transferred from the district’s operational budget and buildings-based budgets to purchase 29 devices for lead teachers this year, which would cost between $27,700 and $31,7000, depending on the equipment and software purchased.

In fiscal year 2015 (FY15), 260 laptops, 54 iPads and eight carts would be purchased in order to equip all teachers in the district at a cost of $327,100 – $317,000 in equipment and $10,000 in software and apps. During the 2014-15 school year, teachers would take part in yearlong technology professional development, led by the lead teachers. Existing professional development funds would be utilized to pay for this training.

In FY16, 260 laptops and 60 iPads and eight carts would be purchased at $340,400 in order to put iPad technology in the elementary schools and supplemental devices in secondary schools.

Purchases in FY15 and FY16 would come out of the existing information technology portion of the schools’ capital budget.

In FY17, East Longmedow secondary schools would begin a lease-to-own laptop program for grades six through 12. Costs associated with the set up of troubleshooting practices and a help desk for teachers, students and families are still being determined, but would also come out of the technology line item.

Flanagan and Information Technology Director Ryan Quimby said the district was looking at devices through Apple. Flanagan said Apple has invested quite a bit in terms of resources into education and the devices are easier to manage on a large scale. Quimby added that it is more cost effective to purchase Apple devices because the company offers any operating system upgrades free of charge.