District to invest in more technology

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published February 12, 2013

HARPER WOODS — Weeks after the district announced funding that would allow them to buy one laptop per student at the high school, they were talking about more technology for the elementary schools.

During the Feb. 5 school board work session, the board discussed purchasing a set of iPads for each grade level at the elementary schools using some carryover grant funding from a previous year.

“It’s an exciting opportunity — that we know for certain,” Superintendent Todd Biederwolf said. “We’re fortunate to have this opportunity.”

There are more decisions to make before approval can move forward for the purchases. The board will consider approval at an upcoming meeting.

The administration explained that they had decided to recommend the iPad mini for reasons that include the smaller hands of young elementary students. The decision also saves several thousand dollars on the overall price of the devices, school officials said.

School board members had a lengthy discussion with administration about the purchases and the technology available at all grade levels. They wanted more information about ways to protect the new technology from breakage and whether insurance will be purchased.

“I’m concerned about them being damaged,” board President Brian Selburn said.

Questions were asked about teacher training to make sure they know how to most effectively use the devices for learning in the classroom. The board also asked about security so that students don’t misuse the devices that are going to be purchased for all grade levels.

“You keep hearing more and more that these kids are getting more and more savvy, so I need to know that we’ve got it under control,” Selburn said.

The district does have some sets of laptops and other devices available to students in the schools now, but these recent announcements will significantly expand what is available.

“Most kids are happy to have the access,” Biederwolf said during the meeting “They value that.”

Tyrone Elementary Principal Cheryl Vanderlinden said they have a cart of iPads that are often used. She said she sees it being wheeled around the building from classroom to classroom.

Beacon Elementary Principal Janet Gottsleben said that it would be great to have more carts with iPads in their building.

The board asked about what it would take to advance this one step further to provide one iPad per student.

While they were recommending iPads for the elementary, the district discussed that the big technology purchase for the high school will involve laptops because they are better for the type of work done at that level.

“The functionality of a computer just far outweighs an iPad,” board Secretary Tracy Purnell said.

The board wanted to know if the students at the high school would be able to take the laptops home.

While the current plan is that each core course teacher will have a cart of laptops in his or her room for student use, there was discussion of the possibility of allowing students to check them out if they have a ride home from a parent. Board members and administrators were concerned about safety issues for students if people think they are walking home with them.

“I’m just concerned that we might be putting some of our kids in harm’s way if that becomes known,” Biederwolf said.

Secondary School Principal Thomas Parker said that he is thinking about using older laptops for a possible loaner program.

While the laptops will be in core classrooms, the elective teachers can borrow the carts from a teacher who is not using them at that time, officials said.

Students can access their work from one class to the next with different laptops because they will have a place on the server where they can save their work.

While the board was pleased to hear about the ability to purchase more technology for students, there were concerns raised about what this means for the middle school.

“The middle school is getting shorted,” Selburn said. “The middle school is getting essentially nothing new and they need that.

“It’s not the way that we should be operating, I don’t think.”

While administration said they can’t officially assign the carts they purchase with the School Improvement Grant funding, because that can only be used for high school purchases, the middle school does get access to the technology in the building.

“The middle school shares everything we have on campus,” Parker said.

Yet, the school board still discussed wanting to see things designated for the middle school. Vice President David Kien said that the district should ask the government if they can assign previously purchased laptops to the middle school, if they don’t need them at the high school anymore.

“Why don’t we start making the calls and find out … how can we legitimately use these somewhere else?” Kien asked. “Let’s just ask. There has to be a way.”

Selburn asked how much it would cost to get some more devices for the middle school.

“We lose a lot of students transitioning from Tyrone to the middle school,” Selburn said. “I’m thinking here of trying to minimize that, and also marketing, and the more we can market and say we’ve got computers (or iPads) for everybody.

“The middle school just seems to be getting the short stick,” he said.