Schools examining computer needs for new year [St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.]
(St. Joseph News-Press (MO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 18--The St. Joseph School District begins a new year addressing some of its student computer issues.
Students again will get to take home laptops and iPads the district purchased in its Project Connect one-to-one computer endeavor. However, this time the devices will have a content-filtering system installed in them.
"No matter where a student takes the computer or iPad, once they leave our building we are guaranteed the content will be appropriately filtered," said Rick Hartigan, chief operations officer.
The Rocket filtering device from Lightspeed Systems will not allow students to put unapproved applications on the computers, Mr. Hartigan added. Grade-appropriate curriculum applications are installed on the devices and locked against further app downloads.
"We have another layer of guarantee. It's safe, it's filtered and it has access only to the appropriate software," Mr. Hartigan said.
The district was able to use $499,690 in Title I savings and $1.2 million in fiscal-year funds to begin its Project Connect endeavor in early 2012. So far, the initiative has led to the purchase of 5,426 Macbooks, 4,265 iPads and 684 personal computers. That's a total of 10,375 devices available for about 11,500 students.
Problems arose early this year with students downloading inappropriate content on the devices and using them in an improper manner. Adding to that, the Board of Education approved a $3.07 million reduction to the budget, which included a cut in technology expenditures.
This created a firestorm of opinion. Opponents of the cuts said reducing the technology budget by $843,000 would jeopardize education. Some board members said the reductions were necessary, due to upcoming overall budget cuts. The purchasing of more computers for Project Connect was put on hold, in order to assess the costs and needs of the program.
The argument extended to what device to purchase. Should the district buy more iPads, or switch to the more cost-effective Chromebook?
Mr. Hartigan said the argument no longer is about the best device, but rather, what is required at each grade level. With the nation's Common Core curriculum coming on board in 2014, the district is tasked with figuring out the appropriate device for students.
"What we have done is put together a group of some of the smartest, finest teaching minds we have in the district," he said. "We are going to examine the Common Core standards through their released test questions, grade level by grade level, and then we'll align the technology skills to the grade level."
This will allow the district to match what it owns to the capacity and skills needed at each grade level. It also will give the district a clearer picture of its computer replacement cycle.
"We want to use this year to practice and prepare for what is coming the following year," Mr. Hartigan said.
Alonzo Weston can be reached
Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWeston.
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