Rock Hill school district proposes next phase of iRock

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comFebruary 10, 2014 

The iRock initiative program gets underway as students at Saluda Trail Middle School begin to receive their iPads

JEFF SOCHKO — SPECIAL TO THE HERALD Buy Photo

  • Phase Two highlights

    Each of the district’s approximately 5,000 high school students will get a MacBook Pro laptop.

    All third-graders in the district will get their own iPad.

    This year’s model will continue for all fourth- through eighth-graders.

Every high school student in Rock Hill could get their own laptop next year, if the district’s plans proceed as presented at Monday night’s school board work session.

These laptops would make up part of the next phase of iRock, which was previously limited to the multi-year, $9 million initiative to provide an iPad for every fourth- through eighth-grade student to use in the classroom and at home, if an additional usage fee is paid. Some iPads also were given to select high school classrooms.

Under Phase Two, every student in the district’s three high schools will receive a 13-inch MacBook Pro laptop. Any iPads given to high-schoolers would be reallocated to the district’s third-graders.

A committee of teachers, students and administrators studied nine different devices such as an HP laptop, an iPad and a Kindle Fire.

“From my perspective and all the teachers we spoke to, MacBooks would be the preferred device at the high school level,” said Chris Chandler, a history teacher at Rock Hill High School.

On Apple’s website, a new 13-inch MacBook Pro retails for $1,299.

The laptops would be assigned to individual students, to be used during the school day. Students will be allowed to take them home if they meet certain criteria, just like elementary and middle school students had to with their iPads.

Board members expressed concern over the price of purchasing the MacBook Pros, although none objected that high school students would do well with a laptop.

“It will be a shock to me if we can afford this,” said board member Ginny Moe, who encouraged using a cheaper device, like a Chromebook, and relying more on the digital cloud.

The district should also consult with colleges and people in career fields to see what devices they’d recommend for students, said board members Walter Brown and Terry Hutchinson.

Board member Jane Sharp said every time she opens the paper, there’s something new with technology and purchasing a specific expensive device, like the MacBook Pro, would be limiting. She also had an issue with the cost.

“That’s not possible,” Sharp said. “I think we better look again.”

Part of the funding for the first phase of iRock was supposed to come from the fees students were required to pay to take the device home. Brown noted that 80 percent to 90 percent of students were expected to pay that fee, but Smith confirmed that less than 50 percent of students actually did, choosing instead to leave their iPads at school each night.

Board chairman Jim Vining quoted an administrator in Mooresville, N.C., who has implemented a similar initiative that’s been highly praised.

“If you’re not doing it in your operating budget, you’re not doing it right,” Vining said.

Programs that aren’t funded out of the operating budget aren’t sustainable, he said. The funds for iRock last year came out of capital funds.

He encouraged Smith to proceed with planning from a budget perspective.

“We will continue to look at the plan and try to bring you something you’ll find palatable,” Smith said.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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