March 15, 2013

School leaders laid the groundwork Thursday for a technological evolution of the way kids learn and work in middle-school and high-school classrooms when they voted to spend more than $500,000 on laptops for students and network upgrades in those buildings.

The idea of pairing students with laptops and tablets is still in its relative infancy, school officials agree, but it holds the key to dramatic changes to education.

At their most basic functions, the devices can be akin to flash cards, with a simple question and answer without the bulk of paper. Kelly Fishbach, director of the Carroll Public Library, has said there are scores of computer applications that simply teach two-digit multiplication.

More advanced examples include replacing textbooks with a continually-updated source of information on the computers, the pages of which might have Internet hyperlinks to take students into cyberspace for more information about a topic they find interesting.

"It will be exciting as we move forward," Carroll schools Superintendent Rob Cordes said this morning. "I think science and math textbooks will still be here - two plus two will always be four - but some of the social-studies texts may not. As fast as things change, some textbooks just can't keep up."

Daric Teske, a Carroll High junior who served on a taskforce of about 30 teachers and students that examined the so-called one-on-one initiative to pair students with laptops agreed.

"Information is always changing now," Teske said at Thursday's meeting. "People know we have a new pope, and that just happened today. It will take awhile for an encyclopedia to get updated."

(Encyclopedia Britannica announced last year that it would cease publishing paper versions of its popular reference books. It had produced hard-copy encyclopedias for 244 years.)

About 1,000 low-dollar laptops built by Samsung and Google will go to Carroll students in grades six through 12, under the plan approved Thursday.

The computers - which are about $250 apiece - will cost an estimated $250,000 plus a start-up fee of $30 for each computer and additional costs for protective cases. The board estimated that implementing just the computers will cost about $430,000.

In a related project, the school board also approved projects of $35,500 and $88,000 to update the schools' wired and wireless computer networks.

The final piece of the technological project was a board vote to create a new position that will guide the Carroll schools' transition to computer-supported learning. They call the job a technology integrationist. A salary for the job has not yet been determined.

"I didn't take spending this amount of money lightly in any way," Board member Jerry Fleshner said. "I believe this is something that is gong to truly benefit the school. It's not an amount of money I'd spend without giving it a lot of thought."

Board Member LaVern Dirkx, who has traveled to Council Bluffs to see that school district's one-on-one initiative in action, said the trip convinced him that benefits of the new technology outweigh the costs.

"One thing they said is the lower-level students became extremely engaged and the rate of achievement was the highest in those students," Dirkx said. "Their discipline was a lot less because they were engaging."

Dirkx said Council Bluffs also saves money on paper, and that students there are less likely to give my-dog-at-my-homework-style excuses.

Cordes surveyed Carroll teachers of all grade levels about implementing the one-on-one initiative. Of those who responded, 64 percent said they were comfortable integrating technology into a class and 89 percent said they support the one-on-one initiative.

High School Vice Principal Tammie McKenzie said Thursday that this marks a rebirth of learning in schools across the country.

"I've seen staff members in our building that have a new thirst for learning," McKenzie said.

School leaders also hope to close a gap among students ­- some whose parents can afford the latest-and-greatest gadgets and some whose can't.


In Other Board News

The Carroll school board also:

- Approved a cooperative sharing agreement for boys' and girls' soccer with Glidden-Ralston and Greene County High School.

- Reviewed four different budget scenarios for 2014, which will be officially published later this month. Superintendent Rob Cordes put together four scenarios because he was unsure how much allowable growth for next year will be.

- Set the budget hearing for the 2014 budget for noon March 25.

- Approved an early-retirement request for kindergarten teacher Barb Middendorf.

- Watched a presentation from the TV News speech group who won an All-State Banner earlier this month.

- Received an update from fourth- and fifth-grade students on how the one-on-one iPad initiative has helped.

- Received an update from Piper Jaffray on possible scenarios to bond physical plant and equipment levy money. Two scenarios were presented to the board. The first scenario would borrow $6 million and the second $7 million.