Spring Lake Park District 16 has rolled out a plan that will put iPads and iPods into its classrooms in the near future. Nearly every student in grades two through 12 will be issued digital devices.
Details are still being hammered out on how they will be distributed.
The aim of the district’s expanded technology program is to help students develop learning, information and communication skills.
The program involves helping schools create individualized learning environments for students and fosters more inclusivity in reaching students with special needs, according to the district.
Also, the expanded program will promote equity by giving access of core academics to all students, regardless of economic status.
Funds to pay for the project will come from a portion of the November 2011 voter-approved capital projects and technology levy. The levy raises about $1.06 million for 2012.
The project will also be paid from reallocated curriculum resource funds.
“Other districts that have implemented similar initiatives have realized significant operational savings,” District 16 Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg said.
In total, the district plans to either lease or lease with the option to purchase 4,300 digital devices. That would include about 3,700 iPads in grades 3-12, and 600 iPod Touches for grades K-2, according to Ronneberg.
Expanding digital learning
Denise Waalen, director of educational services, and Jerelyne Nemanich, the district’s instructional technology coordinator, gave a report on the district’s digital learning initiative at the May 8 regular school board meeting.
The board later unanimously approved a plan that will implement and expand the use of technology and digital learning across the district. The plan would be implemented starting in the 2012-13 school year.
“Technology will enhance the learning for us,” Waalen said of the district’s students and staff.
Focus is on improving student engagement and personalizing learning through an active and participatory, student-driven experience.
Although not set in stone, the board-approved recommendation calls for a phased-in approach to distribute one set of iPod Touches for every four classes in kindergarten; one set of iPod Touches for every two classes in grade one; one iPod Touch for every student in grade two; and one iPad for every student in grades three through 12.
Long time preparing
The district has been preparing for a technological change starting with professional learning in 2004.
Among preparations, District 16 has developed a plan and conducted a needs assessment. Also, the district has researched other districts with programs in place, sought staff input and this school year entered into partnership with Farmington schools, which has a technology plan similar to Spring Lake Park’s.
“None of this is overnight,” said Nemanich.
The state requires the submission of a school district’s technology plan for review every three years, she said.
Ronneberg said District 16 is partnering with Farmington because it shares “a common vision with where we should go with education.”
According to Ronneberg, many of the state’s school districts are already engaged or planning to use iPods, iPads and laptops at a one-to-one ratio. He cited Becker, Farmington, Willmar, Little Falls, Lakeville, West St. Paul and Minnetonka as examples.
Steve Halvorson, technology coordinator, said the district has upgraded its technology infrastructure to increase speed and capacity.
This year it has expanded wireless access points to support more users and an increase in Internet bandwidth. A new fire wall and web filter will be put in place for greater security. And servers will be updated to host new apps and increase storage capacity.
“Some of the technologies are several years old,” Nemanich said about the district’s current setup.
The teachers’ computers are about six to seven years old, Ronneberg said.
Plans are to distribute the digital devices in four phases starting this September with one team of teachers (three to four classrooms) at Westwood intermediate and middle schools. The devices would remain at the schools to start with.
The last phase would have the devices to nearly every students in the district by the end of January.
The dates of distributing the devices would depend on the success of the previous phase-in.
At this time, the district is discussing whether to lease or buy the devices. Plans are to order them this month.
Student boardmember Emily Lukens asked if a plan was in place for breakage or theft.
Nemanich said the district has talked to other schools about such potential problems.
“And you’d be surprised,” she said. “It’s a very small percentage as far as breakage and things like that.”
The district also plans to talk to local police and pawn shops in a proactive move, she said.
Discussions are taking place on whether to charge student fees an/or to offer insurance purchases to students who will be carrying the devices home.
“Those are some of those management things that we need to get figured out by the end of May or June,” Nemanich said.
Boardmember Amy Hennen asked what happens in three years when new and better technology emerges.
Waalen said the district knows how quickly technology changes.
That is one reason why the district plans to look into both leasing and leasing with options to purchase. Instead of purchasing, a lease option would help with updating technology, she said.
The district is looking at “how do we keep this sustainable? How do we make sure that we’re planning for the future, like we do with everything and it’s always looking ahead five to 10 years down the road to make sure it’s sustainable,” Waalen said.
Ronneberg said the district was looking into a three-year lease or the option to lease and purchase the iPads and iPods.
“Either way, we want to be flexible,” he said.
Boardmember Jim Amundson asked what the district gains by splitting the distribution of the devices among certain schools and grade levels on the proposed schedule.
Nemanich said the district hopes to start distributing with a control group of about 500 to 600 devices.
According to Halvorson, different grade levels have different requirements for Internet filtering.
The district’s distribution plan gives the technology department an opportunity to look at the systems and to have proper filters in place, Halvorson said.
Cost for purchases of the devices has yet to be determined.
Ronneberg said the district wants to implement the devices phase-in step by step.
“You don’t want to go too fast,” he said.
In his research Ronneberg learned one of the most important things is to make sure the systems are working so you won’t have frustrated staff and students once they get the devices into their hands, he said.
Said Waalen, “If things go really smoothly right away, we’re open and excited about speeding up the process.”
Elyse Kaner is at firstname.lastname@example.org