Archive for Thursday, June 30, 2005

School district’s laptop implementation goal shifts

June 30, 2005

De Soto USD 232 is doing the technology shuffle.

Instead of continuing to purchase laptop computers with the goal of providing one laptop for every student, the district this summer is reallocating existing laptops among schools. The district is shifting from its 1-to-1 computer-to-student goal in pursuit of a more affordable solution of "on-demand access," providing only the number of computers that would be in use at any given time.

School board President Rick Walker said the shift made sense, likening the new plan to 1-to-1 but only when needed.

"I don't see that what we're doing is a big change from what our original thought was," Walker said. "So what we're taking away is the down time when it would just be sitting in a student's backpack or locker anyway. It's a more efficient and more attainable goal."

Pilot programs

Several years ago, the board pegged Lexington Trails Middle School and Riverview Elementary School as pilot schools for the district's 1-to-1 program.

In August 2002, Riverview received 300 laptops, enough for all fourth- and fifth-graders to have their own devices as well as a few extras for use as needed by first- through third-graders, said technology director Ben Crosier.

In January 2003, Lexington Trails received 450 laptops, enough for every student to carry one throughout the day.

Roughly two-thirds of those computers will be moved to other schools by this fall. Also scheduled to be in place by August is wireless Internet access in all schools, including Countryside Learning Center.

Lexington Trails, Riverview and Prairie Ridge Elementary schools already have building-wide wireless capabilities, but the new wiring will enable other schools to better take advantage of the additional laptops they will receive.

A year later, the district leased 700 laptops, which were put into use in August 2004. The district stocked the newly opened Prairie Ridge and placed at least 30 laptops -- the number held by one mobile cart -- at every other district school.

The laptops will access software on the district's thin client system, which has already been set up for use at all schools and the data center expanded to support it. Returning students and teachers need only establish log-in information to access the district-wide Internet-based network.

Secondary curriculum coordinator Bret Church said there hadn't been problems at the 1-to-1 pilot schools but that reallocation was more a matter of cost management and equity between buildings.

As other staff and board members have agreed, Church said technology in schools should enhance the learning environment instead of being "technology for technology's sake." Students don't need a computer for every lesson of every class of every day, he said. Although it would be nice, Church said, pursuing that plan would incur unnecessary expense and that expecting all staff to have daily laptop-integrated lessons would be unrealistic.

Technology should be used "when it's best for students, not necessarily because it's there," Church said.

'State-of-the-art' plan

In December 2001, The Explorer reported that the board approved $1.5 million to begin a laptop program, called a "world-class, state-of-the-art working environment" by then-Supt. Marilyn Layman. The plan called for laptops at all schools by August 2005, with the goal that students in 1-to-1 pilot schools would be allowed to take their computers home at night.

Layman also noted that the plan's continued implementation depended on voter approval of a $91.5 million bond issue in May 2002. That bond issue failed, but voters approved a $76 million bond issue in November of the same year.

A total of $11.9 million of the successful bond issue was pegged for technology.

Although the bond schedule was reconfigured last fall to account for unexpected costs with the planned Mize Middle School, technology dollars remained the same as initially planned.

Technology expenditures are within budget, and $7 million remains for projects under the current bond issue, Crosier said, noting that telephones, cabling, projectors and anything else computer-related fell within that budget in addition to laptops.

Crosier and Supt. Sharon Zoellner said the district had not yet decided whether to purchase new laptops or further reallocate old ones for the two schools remaining to be built with present bond money -- Mize Middle School at 83rd Street and Mize Road in Lenexa and another elementary school planned for 71st and Chouteau streets in Shawnee. The district has yet to have those discussions, they said.

Flexibility needed

Because of the changing nature of technology, Walker said, the board must be comfortable with an often-changing technology plan.

He added that district staff may dream of "pie in the sky" during brainstorming sessions but didn't bring unreasonable ideas to the board for actual consideration.

"When we have a five-year plan, part of the things we're talking about or may end up purchasing are not even developed yet," Walker said. "As a board, we're confident that we have a competent staff that also are very conscious of not wasting patrons' money on fads. We typically invest in proven technology."

However, when the district does become aware that there may be a better option, it must be flexible and open to change, Church said.

"We're not going to let our pride get in the way of what's best for student learning," he said.

Despite its often-hefty price tag, technology is crucial for educating today's students, Zoellner said. She said she appreciated the board's and patrons' support in funding it.

"It's important for us to have our students prepared for the workforce when they leave us," Zoellner said. "We want them to have as much of a leg-up on the competition as possible."

Crosier said teaching with technology -- when appropriate -- was important in relating to modern youth who, even outside of school, have begun moving away from the traditional pencil-and-paper mentality.

"Kids -- that's not their world," Crosier said. "Now we're saying, 'We're going to do things in your world.'"

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