Rock Hill school officials hope all students have iPads next year

scetrone@heraldonline.comDecember 10, 2012 

Casting a move to mobile devices as inevitable and necessary to boost student achievement in the 21st century, Rock Hill school officials on Monday proposed leasing enough iPads for every student to start next school year with one.

The district would pay for the three-year leases and charge families an annual fee to offset part of the cost. Some of the money would come from fundraising and cutting costs elsewhere in the district.

Students would be free to take the tablet devices home in the afternoons and over the summer. The leases would include insurance that covers damage.

Students who already own an iPad or other mobile device will be allowed to bring it.

Superintendent Lynn Moody’s administrators led the presentation at a school board work session. The presenters – Staff Development Director Chris Smith, Technology Director Joel Whitesides and Associate Superintendents Harriet Jaworowski, Tony Cox and Luanne Kokolis – each described a chunk of the district’s iRock initiative. Over roughly four hours, they offered the clearest vision for the plan yet.

It also marked an evolution in Moody’s thinking. When she first announced iRock last summer, Moody proposed finding a way to buy devices for each student. At one point, she considered pitching a bond package.

That’s no longer on the table, she said before Monday’s meeting. Leasing iPads would not cause taxes to rise, Cox said.

Here are some of the points covered in the presentation:

• The district estimates it will cost about $264 a year to lease an iPad for a student. That includes software and insurance plus staffing and academic costs. It doesn’t include apps. A family could be charged about $85 a year. That plus fundraising dollars would leave the district with a bill of $134 per student.

“We do see fundraising as one of the paramount keys to success and sustainability,” Cox said.

• The district plans to spend up to $2 million to upgrade its wireless network and buy iPad cases and accessories. Whitesides wants to hire employees to help run technical support for the influx of tablet users.

• Students would manage the iPads through Apple IDs, which would let them customize the devices and keep their profiles portable.

• Students in kindergarten through third grade would likely leave their iPads at school rather than take them home each day.

• The district is working with Winthrop University to develop a way to evaluate iRock’s impact on student achievement.

The new Common Core teaching standards, which South Carolina has adopted, require students to be able to use technology for projects, research and analysis, Jaworowski said. “This is about giving another tool to teachers,” she said.

Cox called iRock “one of the greatest catalysts for economic recovery (in Rock Hill) in the next five years.” As the post-recession Charlotte job market grows, Cox said, workers with families looking for a home would gravitate to a progressive school system with rising student achievement.

Teachers have been experimenting with iPod Touches, netbooks and iPads for a couple years. Since August, every teacher has received an iPad and begun training to use them in lessons. It’s part of Moody’s push to reach one-to-one computing, a device for every student.

School board members praised the plan and raised concerns.

School board member Walter Brown cited a $25 academic fee that most families didn’t pay when the district added it a couple years ago.

He asked: “Why would this be different than the $25 academic fee?”

Cox said he expects families will like the idea of leasing an iPad for a discount.

School board member Jane Sharp criticized the administration for not emphasizing student achievement in the written draft of the iRock plan.

“I find it strange you forgot to mention what we value most,” she said.

Board member Terry Hutchinson worried students could become too reliant on technology and teachers could veer from “the basics.”

Jaworowski responded: “That’s kind of what they said about calculators … We will continue to teach reading, writing and mathematics.”

The iRock plan is expected to change after school board members and teachers offer feedback.

Moody plans to present a final draft at the school board’s Jan. 14 work session. The board would vote on it on Jan. 28.

Shawn Cetrone 803-329-4072

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