School district makes major technology investment

Harper Woods puts technology in the hands of all students

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published June 4, 2014

HARPER WOODS — If they weren’t already on the cutting edge of technology in schools with one device for each student at the high school, Harper Woods Schools made a big move in that direction at its May 20 board meeting.

The Board of Education approved a change that will give it a 1-to-1 device-to-student ratio from kindergarten through high school graduation.

“I believe that we are the first school district in Wayne County to go 1-1 technology K-12,” Superintendent Todd Biederwolf said, adding that it makes the district a leader in instructional technology in the state.

“This level of technological support is nearly unmatched across the state,” he said in an email. “We are very excited to bring this powerful educational resource to each student.”

During the meeting, the board approved an almost $245,000 investment in additional technology. The district already had technology in each school, and the high school went to 1-1 devices this year.

In the fall, there will be a device in the hands of every student for use in the schools. The district does not allow students to take the devices home, with a major reason being the safety of the students.

“It will be available for our classrooms for the first day of school,” Biederwolf said of the new technology.

“The development of this recommendation was led by the director of academic accountability and student services, David Rabbideau, and the district’s Technology Committee,” Biederwolf said in an email.  

The school board approved the purchase of more than 400 devices to add to the district’s current pool.

The purchase will add 240 iPad Minis for the district’s youngest students at Beacon Elementary. Tyrone Elementary, the older elementary school students, will find 120 additional iPad Minis at the school in the fall. More than 20 iPads will be added at the middle school, along with 36 Airbooks, which is what is used at the high school.

“This purchase is intended to support the transition of our middle school students from iPads to Airbooks,” Biederwolf said of the Airbook purchase.

To support the technology purchase, the district is adding 16 charging and syncing carts for simultaneous updating when needed.

After adding the new devices, Beacon will have more than 420, Tyrone will have more than 260, the middle school will have almost 270 and the high school will have almost 470 devices.

“Each of these totals surpasses our projected enrollment,” Biederwolf said in an email.

While the district’s oldest students had 1-1 devices this year, Biederwolf said bringing the same benefit to the district’s youngest students is important because they will be even more dependent on technology as they get older and instructional technology evolves.

“It’s highly critical that we develop highly adept, technologically confident students,” Biederwolf said.

As for the teachers, they’re fully on board.

“Beacon is very excited about the investment our Board of Education has approved for our students,” Principal Janet Gottsleben said in an email. “These devices will now be available to every student, every day, all day. This 1-1 availability creates active learners who are highly engaged in the learning process. Not only are the students more engaged, but their individual skill levels are addressed through these devices.

“Some students are able to practice needed skills while the others can be challenged with more accelerated skills and concepts,” she said. “Also, the new state-required computer-adapted assessments are a new format for Michigan elementary students. With this new access, our elementary students will have the exposure from an early age to practice and become familiar with these online formats.”

Teachers in the district’s youngest grades — the kindergarten teachers — also are excited about what they can do.

“Having 1-1 iPads will allow me more flexibility in my teaching,” kindergarten teacher Lynn O’Meara said in an email. “It will help me to remediate for those with learning gaps, as well as extend learning for those who are ready.”

Kindergarten teacher Juliana Simpson agreed.

“I will be able to do more project-based learning; they can be more creative and develop critical thinking skills with such activities as blogging and multimedia projects,” she said in an email.

The new devices will cost the district about $245,000, but $75,000 of that will come from some remaining grant funding and a $25,000 rebate that the district received when it purchased devices for the high school last year.

The district will take $169,000 from its general fund to complete the purchase.

“It’s a significant investment,” Biederwolf said. “I think it’s going to bring great returns.”

Biederwolf said the school board wanted to take advantage of the district’s solid financial position to invest in the students and schools.

“I and the other members of the board are very excited about the potential achievement growth opportunity this commitment creates for our community, including our students and their families, teachers and administrators,” board President Brian Selburn said in an email. “We are proud that we have been able to build our balance sheet to the point where we can comfortably authorize these purchases.”

Selburn said a key component of integrating technology into the school is that students are not handed the devices and sent to their desks to pave their own ways.

“What’s important to remember is that we have been working toward this outcome for at least the last three years,” Selburn said. “Our teachers have already had extensive professional development to help them realize the full instructional potential this technology offers. We also have two IT specialists dedicated to this outcome.

“As an early adopter, an additional but sometimes overlooked benefit of providing this 1-1 technology is that our students will become comfortably acclimated to the use of these devices as the (Michigan Department of Education) implements its plan of transitioning to full electronic standardized testing,” he said. “We expect this will be reflected in improved test scores, especially when compared to other districts that have not yet made this type of commitment.”