This coming school year, every student in the Webster City schools will have the chance to increase their technological skills and education through the use of the Apple iPad tablet computer. Every student in the system, Pre-K through 12th grade, will receive one of the digital devices for his or her own use.
“It’s a one-to-one iPad rollout,” explains School Superintendent Mike Sherwood. “This is a great opportunity for our students,” he says.
“It will be a staged rollout by grade and building, and we hope by late fall to have the devices in every student’s hand,” he says.
Pre-kindergarten students will have classroom sets of iPad Minis, the smaller model. Kindergarten and first grade classes will also have iPad Minis for each student, and students from 2nd through 12th grade will have regular iPad models.
A technology committee comprised of teachers and other staff investigated various device options and decided on the Apple iPad. Work on the project began two years ago when the system upgraded the infrastructure by going to wireless technology to prepare for the rollout.
“We tried different types of netbooks and tablets to see what we wanted to go with; what device would give us the most bang for our buck and best meet our needs,” Sherwood says.
The iPads — 1,639 of them — were obtained through instructional support levy funds and other funds the school had designated to replace desktop computers in the district. The devices are part of a four-year lease agreement. There will be four annual lease payments of approximately $222,000 to complete the agreement. At the end of the four years, the devices will be returned to Apple.
“That’s about the life-cycle of the iPad; we can re-evaluate our needs again at that time,” Sherwood says.
“The leasing program allows us to divide out the total cost of the hardware over the four years. That brings the yearly hardware payment down to an amount that the district can fund without having an impact on other areas of district operation,” explains Mark Murphy, Director of Technology. “Then at the end of the lease we will simply send the hardware back to the lease company. That will allow us to look at look at the one-to-one program four years later and see any changes or adjustments that need to made and then get newer hardware back in the students’ hands.”
Sherwood says there may be a fee assessed with the rollout, but points out that the system hasn’t charged any school registration fees for the past five years.
“It makes more sense to charge a fee and create a pool of money to fund repairs,” he says.
Each device is protected with a heavy-duty Otter Box-brand case, laser-engraved with the school system logo. The inner layer of the iPad case provides cushioning, and the outer case absorbs impact from bumps and shocks while the textured exterior provides enhanced grip. The built-in screen protector prevents scratches, smudges and fingerprints from getting on the screen. The integrated shield stand acts as a protective cover on the front or the back and doubles as a kickstand for typing or viewing.
There were a few iPads in classrooms at the middle and high school last year, but those stayed on carts at the schools. These new units will be in each student’s possession.
Sherwood says he feels confident that students will take good care of the devices, and that breakage and security matters should be non-issues.
“Other schools have found that students take ownership in them,” he says. He’s also trusting that parents will guide their students in appropriate use of the devices.
Prior to the rollout, there will be meetings for students and parents to discuss how parents can help their students with homework on the devices, and the purpose and expectations for using the iPads.
“We need to engage parents as well as students,” he says.
A focus of the meetings will be education on digital citizenship, Sherwood says. Digital Citizenship is a concept which helps teachers, technology leaders and parents to understand what students/children/technology users should know to use technology appropriately. Digital Citizenship helps prepare students/technology users for a society full of technology.
“Teachers have been taking training all summer long,” says Curriculum and Assessment Director Linda Williams. “It’s going to be a change [using the iPads], but our students are ready for that change.”
She said a feature of the iPad that would appeal to both students and teachers is the ability to “blog” back and forth with writing assignments. Blogs – short for “web logs” – are online personal journals or diaries used to comment on all sorts of topics. Williams says that writing often appeals to students who may be shy about sharing in class, so a blog format would be beneficial to them.
“We have found that through blogging, students open up more,” she says.
A program on the devices permits teachers to post homework assignments, parents to see what needs to be done, and students to complete and e-mail the homework back to the teacher is sure to make the process faster and easier.
“We hope that the iPads will help students become more engaged in their learning,” says Williams. “This is the way we need to go with technology.”
Williams says another curriculum addition will let students have more “hands on” involvement in science.
“We will be implementing FOSS (The Full Option Science System) science in our elementary grades K-4 this school year. Middle School students in grades 5-8 have been using FOSS science curriculum for the past two years and have had much success stretching students problem solving and creativity,” she says.
In addition, second grade math classes will be evolving to a paperless process this year, Williams says.
“This school year, 2nd graders will be going green during their Everyday Math class. The teachers will be using the electronic version, and all workbook activities will be completed on the iPad and submitted to the teacher electronically. No more paper!”
Director of Transportation Ted Larson says the new school year will be some changes in bus routes.
“We had three bus drivers retire last year, and we will only be replacing two of them for this year. What this means to our students is that one bus will be eliminate from our scramble. That bus’ route is being spread to three other routes. This was done at the end of the year last year so our students could get accustomed to this change,” Larson says.
Bus route changes will be published in the local newspaper the week before schools starts.
The director says a new handicap bus will arrive in September, and the bus barn is getting a facelift with all new windows, siding and insulation.
“Our first priority is to get our students to and from school safely,” Larson says. “That’s done by keeping our equipment up-to-date and well-serviced, as well as keeping our drivers up on their training and inservice hours.”
Driver inservices are scheduled for the week before school starts.
Larson reminds drivers of the new law that went into effect in January 2013, regarding the rules about stopping when a school bus’ stop arm is out and lights are flashing.
“Many citizens found out about those violations the hard way,” he says. “The old law was if you went through a stop arm on a bus, the fine was $85. Now the new law is $650 and 30 days of loss of their license.”
“Last year alone, we had 10 violations of this. Sadly, people are generally texting or talking on their phones. This is our students’ safety we are talking about. For heaven’s sakes, when you see a bus, pay attention to it. It doesn’t cost a dime more to pay attention!” he says.
Buildings and grounds
The old classroom wings at Pleasant View and Sunset Heights elementary schools have been gutted and remodeled, new plumbing and sinks in the bathrooms installed, and plate glass hallway windows have been removed in accordance with fire codes, says Superintendent Sherwood. New boiler installation in those buildings should be finished by October. Some new lockers will also be installed.
Sherwood says the PTO Safe Surface playground projects at those two schools should soon be finished.
“They will be very nice playgrounds,” he says.
At Webster City High School, the hallway between the office area and auditorium on the courtyard side has been upgraded, and the three special education classrooms have had mechanical system upgrades.
“A number of new staff positions have been filled,” says Sherwood.
There will be 15 new staff members in the school system this fall. There will also be an additional section of second grade added.
“Our numbers justified that addition,” Sherwood says.