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Springfield schools’ $6M tech plan seeks to avoid pitfalls

At least two Clark County school districts are looking to adopt one-to-one technology plans next year, a move that can be expensive and has been successful in some schools, but come under scrutiny in others.

Springfield City School District plans to spend about $6 million to put laptops in the hands of all students grades three through 12 in the next three years.

Tecumseh Local School District has applied for a more than $892,700 state grant to buy iPads for each middle school student.

The goal is to give students a more personalized learning experience, the schools said.

“Technology gives us more ways to differentiate learning and different avenues to instruct our students,” Tecumseh Superintendent Brad Martin said.

In Springfield, the majority of the laptops will be leased and the program will be paid for with re-purposed textbook and technology money and grant funds. In the fourth year, the district plans to evaluate the program.

“We know at least at year four, we’re really going to have to do a refresh, in order to remain relevant to the students,” said Stacy Parr, director of technology and information services for Springfield schools. “Based on what they’re seeing outside of school, we have to keep up with the technology.”

For Tecumseh, if it doesn’t receive the Straight A grant, Martin said the iPad program will be put on hold.

Common Core standards in play

Part of the push to get technology into every student’s hands is a looming deadline to implement new online standardized tests.

Ohio is one of 14 states and the District of Columbia that formed the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers consortium in order to test new Common Core standards.

The PARCC test will be administered online beginning in the 2014-15 school year. Each student will need to have access to a computer and would ideally be comfortable with that device and the digital test format beforehand, Parr said.

When the district began looking at the testing deadline, Parr said it made sense to start acquiring more devices and preparing students. The more computers available, the more students who can be tested on the same day, reducing disruptions on classroom time.

Not ‘another Los Angeles’

Although many school districts have implemented one-to-one plans in recent years with varying levels of success. The largest and most talked about roll out took place at Los Angeles Unified School District in 2013.

Plagued by problems — students immediately hacked security controls, parents balked at waivers making them responsible for lost or broken iPads and expensive software upgrades raised concern — the $1 billion L.A. initiative became the symbol of a botched program.

Springfield has researched successful one-to-one programs, including Lancaster, Ohio; Katy schools in Texas; and Chicago Public Schools.

Lessons include getting devices into teachers’ hands early, making sure network infrastructure is in place, and not relying on the technology to be the whole answer, Parr said.

“The key to the success was professional development,” she said. “It really came down to how well the teacher implemented the device with the curriculum.”

The use of technology needs to become ingrained in the way teachers do their job, said Leslie Wilson, CEO of the One-to-One Institute, a non-profit that works with districts to implement computing initiatives.

“This needs to be embedded into their lives, into what they do every day. That takes time, it takes trial and error,” she said.

While some schools have made an investment in iPads or Net-books and simply handed them over, those that have made the most use of technology say planning is key.

“Schools that say, ‘let’s buy them because they will help our kids’ and then just hand them out, those are the districts where they sit on a shelf,” said Kevin Graham, director of information technology for Springfield-Clark CTC. “There has to be a clear vision of where you want to go as an organization.”

CTC students have been given laptops for school and home use since 2005. The district will soon move to Chromebooks, which Graham said are half the cost while offering word processing, spreadsheets and apps.

Having a strong wireless infrastructure in place is a must, Graham said.

“You have to make sure you have the network in place and that it’s strong enough to handle 50 or 60 kids connecting at the same time,” he said.

Springfield is in the process of ramping up its wireless network. The district also plans to have charging stations ready.

One of the main concerns from teachers has been, will the technology work consistently?

“Folks have to really reach a certain comfort level to use technology,” Parr said.

The key will be having a good support staff, she said. Some students might be trained to be technology leaders in their building.

“We need to have all those legs in place to hold up this table, otherwise we are going to have another Los Angeles and we don’t want that,” Parr said.

You break it, you don’t necessarily have to buy it

A major concern for districts investing in expensive devices is what to do when a child breaks or loses his or her computer.

“We know it’s going to happen, and we’re going to have to replace it,” Parr said. “Some of that will just be the cost of doing business.”

Graham estimates about 10 percent of devices break and about 1 percent are lost or stolen.

Springfield initially proposed a technology protection fund with each student paying a fee.

“Because of our socio-economic situation here in our district, we don’t know that they are going to be able to do that,” Parr said.

The district may need to cover the cost of repairs, but Parr said the school will deal with negligent damage or theft on a case-by-case basis. Laptops will have tracking software and other security features to ensure they are used appropriately, she said.

“Districts said they were most concerned about that — getting lost, stolen, broken,” Parr said. “But in reality, once they did the implementation, there was very little of that happening. They saw that the students respected the technology more when they had some level of ownership.”

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