Rock Hill school board vote on iRock plan may come Monday

dworthington@heraldonline.comMarch 21, 2013 

— IRock, the Rock Hill schools initiative to put a tablet computer in the hands of every student in the district, will likely be voted on at Monday’s school board meeting.

The school board spent more than three hours Thursday listening to staff answer questions on the initiative which Superintendent Lynn Moody says will improve learning and help the district recruit the best teachers.

District administrators outlined the costs for various initiative options, policies for students, parents and teachers on the use of the iPad 2, and safeguards to prevent students from downloading inappropriate material.

The meeting was the latest in a months-long series of sessions designed to brief the school board on all aspects of the initiative. The meetings have included questions and concerns from parents and teachers. Answers to their concerns have been incorporated into the plan’s latest draft.

No action was taken at the meeting at Dutchman Creek Middle School but two options seemed to have support of board members: fully implementing the initiative for grades 3 through 11 and for providing one tablet per three students in kindergarten, first and second grades, or implementing the initiative for grades 3 through 8 and adding high school students later.

The first-year cost estimate for a grades 3 through 8 would be about $3.5 million which includes leasing about 5,550 iPads, technology upgrades at the school, and training for teachers. The proposal assumed about 1,000 students would bring iPads from home.

The first-year cost estimate for a more comprehensive program would be about $4.6 million, school administrators said.

District officials stressed the numbers are estimates and can change based on the grades initially included in the initiative, the number of iPads needed and how leasing the computers is paid for. One thing that won’t change, they said, was the per computer cost of $379. Apple does not offer discounts for quantity purchases, they said.

The school district would offer parents the option to purchase an annual $65 protection plan for the computers. The fee would cover one-time loss or theft of the computer and breakage.

Moody stressed that there will be a learning curve in the first year. But she was equally confident that students will show improvement. She and her staff endorsed a goal of meeting or exceeding federal benchmarks for reading and math in three years. A handout of scores showed the Rock Hill schools are exceeding the standards for several grade levels in math, but are not doing as well in reading.

She said meeting the benchmarks is an aggressive goal because she wants to decrease the number of students not meeting the standard and increase the number of students exceeding the standard.

Moody said that even with the iRock initiative, there would still be a balanced approach to teaching between online and traditional resources. Parents also will have the option for their child to opt out of computer-based learning.

But the emphasis is clearly on maximizing the benefits of technology. For instance, students will have limited options to print from their iPads, school officials said.

Some parents at Thursday’s meeting said the school district was moving too quickly and urged the school board to concentrate on offering the iPads to older rather than younger students, and to move slowly rather than quickly because of the time needed to teach the teachers.

A student who already uses iPads in her challenge-based learning class noted that Internet access at home will be a key to the initiative’s success. She said her classmates who don’t have Internet at home have to take time out of their school day to complete homework posted online the night before.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

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