The Rock Hill school districts digital education initiative, iRock, will cost more than $9 million over the next two years, say district officials.
The total could be more as the district annually issues technology bonds of about $2.5 million. The technology improvements are not necessarily related to iRock, but upgrades will allow school and teachers to better use and manage the iRock initiative.
First-year costs include buying more than 7,600 iPad 2 computer tablets, teaching the teachers how to use technology, adding technical support staff and improving the technology networks at the schools for about $4.85 million.
Second-year costs are about $4.49 million.
Officials stress that the iRock initiative is not about the computer, but a way to change the way students learn and how teachers teach. The goal is creating a collaborative classroom environment.
The vision is that students can learn anywhere, anytime, Superintendent Lynn Moody said. Learning will come from interaction with a teacher or fellow students, she said. Sometimes, the students will be teaching the teachers, she said.
Other schools have similar initiatives. Whats different for Rock Hill, said Luanne Kokolis, associate superintendent for student services, human resources and technology, is the district is trying to level the playing field by giving universal iPad access to students at a low cost. Next school year, every student in grades four through eight will get an iPad2.
So far, Rock Hill schools are making the changes without raising taxes. The district is spreading out the cost by using bonds to purchase computers and make technology upgrades. The bonds for the iPads will be paid out over three years.
Some of the funding has come from the districts reserves.
The biggest expense comes this summer, $3.1 million to buy 7,600 iPad2 tablets and $350,000 to buy protective cases.
Some iPads will be assigned to the districts three high schools. Elementary schools will be allotted iPads for other grades. In most cases, these iPads will remain at the schools.
Ninth-graders at South Pointe High School will get an iPad2. Each high school is determining how best to use the iPads allocated to them.
Students who pay a $65 protection fee in grades four through eight, as well as South Pointe freshmen, will be allowed to take their iPads home.
When school starts Aug. 15, district officials expect to have about $1.5 million in technology upgrades to be finished at the schools. The upgrades are needed to accommodate more students and teachers using the computer networks.
Another summer expense will be about $150,000 in training for teachers on how to effectively use technology in their classrooms. The district, in small chunks, has been introducing technology into the classroom for the past several years. The district has gradually increased the number of tablets in the classrooms, and in some cases parents have purchased the iPads for their children for school use.
Before this year, the district has spent $1.4 million to purchase about 2,800 iPads.
Annual iRock expenses in the budget for the fall include $750,000 to pay for 12 new staff members two specialists to help teachers, 10 information technology personnel to keep the iPads working and two clerical workers, plus $500,000 to repair broken iPads.
The districts technology bond issue also includes $800,000 to purchase 500 MacBook Pro computers for teachers. The MacBook Pros will replace teachers current laptops. The districts goal is to furnish a MacBook Pro to each of its 1,340 teachers.
The district plans to gradually replace its current teacher laptops. Next years proposed technology bond includes funds to buy another 500 MacBook Pros.
At a recent school board meeting, board chairman Jim Vining questioned whether the district should accelerate that timetable given the number of students who will have iPads.
Joel Whitesides, who leads the districts technology efforts, said the MacBook Pro has capabilities that allow it to effectively manage a number of iPads. Programs such as Air Drop allow for the transfer of files between Apple devices without using Wi-Fi. Air Play allows the wireless streaming of audio, video and photos. There is iBook, a tool that would allow teachers to write lesson plans and share them with anyone using an iPad.
Whitesides said the districts current HP laptop computers will allow teachers to manage their classroom iPads, but not necessarily with the options available on the MacBook Pro. He said the district would have changed to the MacBook Pro regardless of whether it adopted iRock.
Also up for discussion is a learning management system for shared content and to monitor student performance, allowing teachers and administrators to access academic progress. The system could be accessible to parents and students.
Moody said a learning management system is needed with or without iRock. The system, depending on how sophisticated it is, can help teachers and administrators better manage the schools iPad universe.
In iRocks second year of operations, expenses are projected to drop slightly because the number of iPads purchased will decrease. School officials estimate they will need about $2.45 million to buy 5,000 iPad2s for high school and other elementary grades.
Professional development and staffing costs specific to iRock are anticipated to remain the same in year two. Repair costs are expected to more than double to $980,000.
That years technology bond is anticipated to have money set aside to buy more MacBook Pros for teachers, as well as replacing other computers.
No savings from iPads have been budgeted for the first few years. Over time the school district should see savings in electricity costs and paper expenses, said Tony Cox, associate superintendent for finance.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066