Rollingstone Community School will soon put iPads into the hands of every student, part of an effort to enhance educational opportunities through the integration of the technology.
The plan is one that has excited and invigorated school and community leaders, explained Rollingstone Principal Jack Kaehler, with teachers visiting other schools that have employed iPads as a tool for learning. That excitement and commitment to the school, he said, generated a promise from the community to raise the $40,000 needed for the initial purchase of the equipment.
Other schools already using the equipment have reported successes, said Rollingstone representatives during the meeting, improving test scores and engaging students through creative learning. During a recent visit to a Twin Cities elementary school with iPads, students were writing a persuasive paragraph about their school, then creating a commercial about it using the device’s audio and video capabilities.
Rollingstone Elementary School leaders plan to use the iPads in a variety of ways, from using the equipment for musical studies, to enhancing the “Daily 5” reading program. Teachers will also have the ability to closely monitor student reading proficiency using voice recording of reading over time, and the iPads are expected to cut back on the amount of paper the school consumes.
While the majority of school board members hailed the idea and the generous community donation, board member Steve Schild disagreed that Rollingstone Elementary should move ahead with the program on its own. Especially, he said, given the financial situation of the district, this should not be at one school and dependent on donations rather than a district wide approach. “I have reservations about tying technology to curriculum in such a close way,” he said. “And I don’t like individual schools to be seen as islands.”
Other board members disagreed, saying this was a pilot program, funded through generous donations, like the SmartBoards were when they were introduced. “We don’t want to discourage [Parent Teacher Associations] from raising money,” said board member Gary Shursen, adding it was a good plan that could also improve enrollment at the small elementary.
“You really have to start small [when employing new technology],” said board member Mohamed Elhindi, who helped with Winona State University’s pilot student laptop program back in the late 1990s. We didn’t start with giving all students laptops, he explained, but started with 100 as a pilot program to work out the kinks. You start small, then study, he said, and “then based on the evidence, we create a district wide approach.”
Board member Ben Baratto agreed, adding the STEM school at Jefferson Elementary was a program only offered at one school. And, he said, the district does not have enough money to offer iPads at all elementary schools. The board is expected to have to use approximately $995,000 from its reserve budget for next year’s operations, and will have to cut about $500,000 from the budget the following year.
Baratto, who has advocated a year-round school concept for Rollingstone, also said the program could attract more students to the site. Perhaps STEM concepts could be added, he suggested, given that the district had to turn down so many students who did not make it into Jefferson’s STEM program through the lottery system.
Board member Jay Kohner said he liked offering different programs at different sites, providing options for families. Parents send children to charter schools, he said, because they want those choices, and different programs are a good thing.
In response to questions about funding for long-term maintenance and replacement iPads, District Technology Specialist Kevin Flies told the board that a mobile laptop station was already worked into the budget for the school, and replacement and maintenance costs would be similar for the iPad option. Board members asked that the money be raised and a report on those long-term maintenance costs be submitted prior to implementing the new program.
Schild still questioned those potential long-term costs, and said that adding the iPad program at Rollingstone was different than offering the STEM program at Jefferson, because the STEM site came after an analysis over where the program would be the best fit. There has been no such analysis about where iPads would be the best fit, he said.
“You have to remember something,” said Elhindi. “The Rollingstone School community gave us seed money.” They donate to start the program, he said, then we evaluate it and determine the long-term plan.
Board member Michelle Langowski, who voted for the proposal, said not having a long-term plan to sustain the program made her nervous. “There is no point in starting a program that we cannot sustain,” she said.
All but Schild voted for the proposal.