The Rock Hill School Board unanimously voted Monday to put an iPad2 in the hands of almost 8,100 students in grades four through nine next year.
The iRock computer initiative is more than just giving students a computer, stressed Superintendent of Schools Lynn Moody. The initiative will change the way students learn, creating a collaborative environment where teacher and students learn side-by-side, she said.
Sometimes, Moody said, it will be the teachers learning from the students and at other times it will be students learning from other students. A measure of success, Moody said, “will be when students push each other to the next level.”
Along with the computers come a high expectations. Monday’s action include a goal that all Rock Hill students meet or exceed national scores for reading and math in the next three years.
Monday’s vote ended a year-long conversation about how Rock Hill schools could maximize the advantage of the digital age giving each student a computer. The conversations included students, parents, residents and teachers and staff. The initiative was endorsed by groups such as the Rock Hill NAACP and the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The board praised Moody for her ambitious vision. Board chairman Jim Vining noted, though, that the discussions were not about if, but about how the iRock initiative would evolve.
“There was never a doubt that we were moving forward,” he said.
Monday’s vote represented a compromise developed over the last few days.
At last week’s board meeting there was support for giving students in grades third through eighth an iPad, with students in kindergarten, first and second having one computer for three students. Other board members favored fully implementing the plan for all grades, noting that high school students would benefit most as they are closest to graduation and will soon be competing for advanced education and jobs.
Moody’s compromise was an attempt addressed the concerns of people such as Michelle King who spoke at Mondays’ meeting, concerned about the amount of “screen time” young children would be exposed to. School board member Terry Hutchinson echoed her concerns.
Including the ninth grade in the initial rollout was seen as key by board members and school staff because the ninth grade is a pivotal year in retaining students, they said.
Monday’s vote also came with the condition offered by Walter Brown that the iRock initiative be funded without a tax increase.
Moody said she was confident that iRock could be included in a balance budget for the board’s consideration.
Preliminary costs estimates for the first-year of iRock are about $3.5 million, according to district officials. That estimate includes $1.4 million that board approved Monday night for technology infrastructure improvements at the schools. Included in the $3.5 million are funds to lease about 7,500 iPads and for training for teachers. (Some of the iPads needed are already owned by the district and school officials also expect some students to bring their own iPads to school.)
The cost to parents would be an annual $65 protection plan that would cover one-time loss or theft of the computer and breakage.
Moody and school board members acknowledged many challenges await the iRock initiative.
Vining said this was the first time in his 15 years on the board that a vote will “change the dynamics in the classroom. It’s a time for excitement. It’s a time for anxiety.”
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066