Education

$110 million bond package would give Rock Hill high students laptops

aburriss@heraldonline.com

If voters approve the Rock Hill school district’s request to issue $110 million in bonds in a May 5 referendum, up to $9 million worth of technology would go directly into the hands of students.

An estimated $8 million to $9 million of the bond issue would fund an expansion of the district’s iRock program to provide laptops for all students at Rock Hill’s three high schools. The iRock program is the district’s 1:1 technology initiative that puts mobile computers in the hands of students for use at home and school.

Piloted in the 2013-2014 school year, iRock initially provided iPads for students in fourth through eighth grades. In 2014-2015, iPads were provided to the district’s high schools for use as administrators chose.

At South Pointe High School, administrators gave the iPads to freshmen to use at home and in class. At Rock Hill and Northwestern high schools, students used them only in classes that had high-stakes testing.

The school districtcreated a committee of students, parents, teachers, administrators, business people and representatives from York Technical College and Winthrop University to evaluate the best application of the iRock program for high school students and what technology would best serve them. That committee determined that laptops would better suit high school students’ instructional needs.

“The committee decided that high school students need a more powerful device than an iPad,” said Judy Mobley, executive director of secondary instruction for Rock Hill schools. “We went to the state standards, and based on the standards, a study of instructional needs and the needs of higher education, we decided on the technology specifics. And it turns out that a laptop is a more compatible device.”

With laptops, Mobley said, students could easily access Canvas, an online system that gives students and parents access to classroom announcements, grades, assignments and tests. Instructional uses would include desktop publishing, learning and using spreadsheets, as well as creating multimedia presentations, Mobley said.

The iPads now being used at the district’s high schools would be sent to third-graders for use if voters approve issuing the bonds on May 5.

As part of the district’s five-year plan, administrators hope to eventually provide laptops to sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders as well, and tablet computers to kindergarteners and first- and second-graders.

iPads for elementary grades have already proven to be a valuable tool, Mobley said.

“Flipped” classrooms are one way teachers are using iPads to help students gain additional instruction time. With a flipped classroom, students watch a video lesson created by their teacher for homework. Then, during instructional time, they practice what they learned from the video.

“They present the learning through video at home and they practice in the classroom where the teacher can circulate and work with the students one-on-one,” Mobley said.

Implementation of iRock has been largely successful from a technology administration perspective, said Joel Whitesides, executive director of technology, but not completely without challenges. When iRock was implemented the district did not utilize a mobile device management system, which would have allowed them to upgrade and manage the devices remotely. It also would have made personalizing the iPads for an individual student’s learning style and needs difficult, he added.

“We wanted the iPads to be personalized and not necessarily have a generic profile, for every student to have their own apps and media,” he said.

Another challenge, Mobley said, has been getting the parents to pay for the $50 protection plan, allowing students to take the device home.

“We’d like for 100 percent of our students to take them home every day and extend that learning,” Mobley said. “That’s my real focus next year if the bond passes, making sure all families have access to taking those devices home with them.”

Financial assistance is available to help families pay for the protection plan, Mobley said.

Despite the lack of 100 percent participation, Mobley said, iRock is still a better option for students than a bring-your-own-device policy, which allows students to use their own laptops or tablets in the classroom.

“‘Bring your own device’ just widens the gap between those who have technology and those who don’t,” Mobley said. “We wanted equitable access to learning. If we don’t, the kids whose parents have money to provide them a laptop or iPad have access to all the resources in the world and the ones who don’t are very limited, and we’re not preparing them if they don’t have the same access as everyone else.”

About the May 5 bond referendum

Rock Hill voters will decide next week whether their school system can borrow $110 million over five years to expand cafeterias and classrooms at some schools; fix the roofs, replace doors and make other maintenance improvements at other buildings; buy buses; increase students’ access to technology; and improve security at several campuses.

If voters approve, the money would pay for 51 projects across the district, with every school benefiting from multiple improvements, according to supporters of the bond issue. The projects are part of a district-wide master plan to make all of the city’s schools safe and efficient and to create a better learning environment. The school board approved the plan in February.

The school board has promised voters that if they approve the bond issue, property taxes will not be increased. The board says other debt will be paid off as the new money is borrowed. The plan assumes a steady bond interest rate. If interest rates rise, the schools would likely borrow less.

Public hearing

A public hearing on the bond referendum will be held at Rock Hill City Hall on Thursday at 7 p.m.

How to vote

All Rock Hill school district precincts will open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on May 5. Absentee votes are now being accepted by the York County voter registration and elections office. Absentee voting by mail ends May 1. In-person absentee voting is open through May 4 at the board’s office, 13 S. Congress St, York. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Upcoming stories

Wednesday: Safety and energy improvement at Rock Hill schools.

Thursday: Repairing or replacing roofs, doors, ceilings, floors and out-of-date restrooms.

See heraldonline.com for related coverage.

Don Worthington

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