USC technology director wants 200 iPads for middle school students

Published Mar 19, 2013 at 9:18 am (Updated Mar 19, 2013 at 9:18 am)

Upper St. Clair School District’s Director of Technology made his case to the school board on March 18 for requesting about $194,000 in new spending for technology in the 2013-14 school budget.

Raymond Berrott acknowledged that this would be in addition to a final $275,000 payment on previous technology improvements that were spread out over a number of years, and an annual payment of $106,000 in 2013-14 for software licenses for programs already in use in the district.

About $114,000 of the new spending is the first of five yearly payments to replace 500 laptops in the high school. He said the laptops were bought in 2007 with grant funds, so they are approaching seven years of age. The total bill for the proposed five-year lease agreement would be about $565,000.

Replacements to a portion of technology infrastructure at the high school, which is about 10 years old, accounts for $50,000 of the proposed new spending for 2013-14.

The final element of the spending request is about $24,000 for the first of five yearly payments to acquire 200 additional iPads for use at the sixth and eighth grade levels at Boyce and Fort Couch Middle Schools. The total bill for the proposed five-year lease agreement for the iPads would be about $116,000.

The total annual cost of the two new leases, including a four percent interest charge, will be about $144,000 per year.

One team of teachers is currently using iPads in a pilot program in the fifth and seventh grades at the middle schools, and Berrott said this proposal is for an expansion of the pilot into two more grade levels.

School board member Buffy Hasco said that she observed students in the fifth grade pilot program using the iPads.

“The level of engagement and the quality of work these kids came up with was so impressive to me,” Hasco said. “I absolutely believe we have to prioritize this moving forward. The benefit to our students is profound. It was just really exciting.”

School board member Amy Billerbeck said she also observed a class using the iPads, and was also impressed with what she saw – the students were learning many important 21st century skills because of using the devices. She said the students worked collaboratively in pairs, and every so often the teacher would stop them and have each team report on what they were doing.

Billerbeck said the students didn’t realize it, but they were giving presentations in class. “I would add my full support to doing this,” she said.

Billerbeck said without expanding the pilot program to the two additional grades, when students advance to the next grade, “then whoosh, the air goes out of the balloon.”

District Superintendent Patrick O’Toole said rather than making teachers obsolete, technology makes the process of teaching more challenging. “These devices really change the dynamic. It’s much more difficult than traditional classroom instruction,” O’Toole said.

Judith Bulazo, director of curriculum and professional development, said next year is a critical year because it’s almost becoming unfair to the students to whom this is not available.

School Board Member Rebecca Stern said, “It’s really a shame to limit access.”

She said the district might have to look into charging a rental fee to the students for the use of the devices, not unlike a lab fee, so that they could become available to more students. “Direct transfer of costs to our current users may be where we need to go,” Stern said.

In other business, the board adopted a final version of the 2013-2014 school calendar.

The schedule has school starting on Aug. 26. The last day of school is listed as June 12, pending snow make-up days.

April 14 through 18 is listed as Spring Recess.

Fall open house dates at the schools are: Sept. 12 at the elementary schools, Sept. 19 at Boyce Middle School, Oct. 3 at Fort Couch Middle School and Oct. 9 at the high school.

There are two scheduled half days on the calendar, on Oct. 11 and March 7. The students would be dismissed early on those days and the remainder of the day would be used for professional development for the teaching staff.

Seven teacher in-service days are listed between Aug. 26 and June 12, during which there is no school for students. They are: Oct. 28, Oct. 29, Nov. 5, Jan. 20, Feb. 14, March 31, and April 21.

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