While many North Allegheny school board members agreed that they are behind neighboring districts with regard to technology, they are concerned about the price tag to catch up and surpass those districts.
Administrators presented a technology plan to the school board March 26 that would put a device in the hands of all students by September 2016. But the plan comes with initial costs of $1.9 million and recurring costs of $3.5 million.
“Our goal is to have our children use technology seamlessly in the classroom,” said Katherine Curran, coordinator of academic technology and instructional services. “They know how to use technology if we get out of their way and give it to them and make it OK.”
The district is upgrading technology infrastructure in all schools, and a districtwide wireless network will be rolled out in 2014-15, said Bill Phillips, senior information technology manager. The tentative timeline shows teachers in each level receiving the devices in January with their students getting them in September. That gives the teachers time to figure out how to incorporate them into lesson plans.
“The last thing we want to do is put devices in the hands of kids without knowing how we are going to use them,” Mr. Phillips said.
The first group of teachers and students to receive devices will be first and second grade, as well as special education and English language learners. All other grades will follow in 2016.
Administrators are talking about iPad Minis for kindergarten through second grade, tablets for upper elementary and middle school students and laptop/tablet combinations for high school students.
“To be successful, 21st century learners must attain a level of proficiency in core subject areas, life and career skills and technology,” Mrs. Curran said.
Mrs. Curran said the goal is to have technology in the classroom rather than a computer lab and instruction to be a blend of classroom and online learning.
Mr. Phillips said they considered a “bring your own device” program, but several factors got in the way, including the district’s ability to block certain websites from the devices, and the fact that students have a variety of laptops, Apple products, PCs, Kindles, Nooks and Android devices.
“If we want to standardize on textbooks, we cannot buy for every platform,” he said.
Mrs. Curran said not all students may have the applications that are being used in the classroom, but board member Ralph Pagone said it would be less expensive to buy those apps than to lease an entire device.
Board member Libby Blackburn suggested that the devices rotate among classrooms to cut down on the number that have to be leased because students would not be using them all day.
“I think we need technology in our classrooms,” she said. “They are going to be using it throughout their lives. There isn't a job in the world where you aren’t at least emailing people.”
Some board members said there needs to be more study about the issue, including how the technology will help students.
Kevin Mahler said, “I’m not sure I'm buying need. I would rather make sure I have enough teachers in the classrooms than kindergartners have iPads.”
Board Vice President Tara Fisher said North Allegheny is behind other districts in technology, but said that “$3.5 million recurring every year ... definitely causes some concern” with upcoming and future budgets.
“What actually are we trying to achieve, not just getting the good publicity that we are competitive with everyone else,” she said. “Are we getting anything tangible? Nothing can substitute for the teacher in the classroom.”
Board member Maureen Grosheider said that, although a tablet may not improve a child’s ability to read per se, “it may engage that child. One of the things that I hate to say is youngsters come to school today without the same attention span that they had 20 years ago. They need the rapid changeover that happens with computers.”
Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.