Blairsville-Saltsburg students to get iPad tablets [The Blairsville Dispatch, Pa.]
(Blairsville Dispatch (PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 23--Every student in grades 9-12 at the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District will be equipped with an iPad 2 tablet computer beginning next fall under a four-year lease agreement approved at the school board's Wednesday meeting.
In an agreement with the manufacturer, Apple, the school board voted to pay no more than $135,000 per year to lease more than 750 iPad devices. Assistant Superintendent Ian Magness said he expects the actual payment to be closer to $116,000 per year, in part due to a recent price drop for the tablets.
In a presentation to the school board, Magness touted the iPads as the ideal solution for updating the district's technology while addressing the complaints of teachers and students about the slow response of some current aging school computers. At the end of the lease, he said, the district will have the option to purchase the devices for a nominal fee.
"We're going to take a progressive step forward" with the iPad lease, Magness said. "This is going to have an impact on every single one of our students in grades 9-12 as well as all our secondary teachers in all departments."
The school board has said district finances are such that no property tax hike is envisioned for at least several years. Magness said the investment in the iPads won't change that scenario as it won't require a boost in the B-S technology budget.
"The technology budget has not been increased in over a decade," Magness told the board, noting, "I'm still not asking you for any more money."
"I think it's great," school board President Ed Smith said of the iPad lease. "This will bring our students into the 21st century." He said B-S will become one of only about 10 districts in the state that have made such a sweeping commitment to the iPad technology.
Smith added that B-S board members are similarly planning to "go paperless" at their meetings, relying on electronic versions of agenda documents.
Magness predicted that the district is going to be "reconsidering the ways we use textbooks." He suggested that a classroom set of hard-copy textbooks might be purchased along with related applications that can be used on the student iPads.
According to Magness, students will be able to take the iPads home with them throughout the school year. He said each device will come with a case and four core applications -- an iMovie app and three others that correspond to PowerPoint, Word and Excel programs.
Proper care and usage
Regardless of when and where students use their iPads to access the Internet, a filtering system will direct them back to the district's own network so that they will be blocked from viewing inappropriate content, Magness explained. That includes a restriction against use of Facebook and other forms of social media, he said.
Board member Holly Gibson expressed concern that students and parents be trained in proper care of the iPad devices. Magness said plans are for B-S to provide a multi-day orientation for students and an evening seminar for parents before the devices would be entrusted to the teens. As with any piece of district equipment, students and their parents would be liable for any damage caused to the iPads. Magness said he hopes to partner with a local insurance agent who could offer district families low-cost insurance for the iPads to provide "double protection" for the devices.
He also expressed hope that the district's iPad investment would "become a community effort," with students using them together with their parents and also at community centers and other public gathering spots "where we want our kids to hang out."
Magness noted that the district will have wireless access points on its school campuses for more flexible use of the iPads -- including displaying presentations in classrooms equipped with smartboards. In another nice feature, he said, all student and teacher files will automatically be backed up off-site each night. Expanded bandwidth will allow for greater speed in communications, he added.
He said the iPads will give students wider exposure to different computer technology. "They'll be experienced on both Macs and PCs," he said. "Those will be some pretty marketable graduates."
Magness argued that the iPad lease is cost-effective. He indicated it would cost nearly $700,000 to replace the district's outdated technology with conventional computer hardware. He said the existing equipment still will see use, explaining, "We'll re-purpose our current hardware in the elementary schools."
What else they did
In related technology matters, the board approved purchase of filtering and security hardware and software from CDW-G at a cost of $42,580. CDW-G also will supply printers, at a price of $7,380.
B-S also is purchasing: a Barracuda back-up server from the Capital Area Intermediate Unit at a cost of $12,465.20; BoardDocs LT, an electronic school board management system, at a cost of $3,700 including a one-time start-up fee, plus the cost of computers for board members and staff.
In other business, the school board approved the ARIN Intermediate Unit 2012-13 budget with a B-S contribution of $57,784, representing a 2 percent increase from the current year.
Blairsville-Saltsburg expects to save money, beginning July 1, by taking on some educational functions that had been handled through ARIN. Transferred to the district from ARIN will be two gifted teaching positions, two speech and language teaching positions and four learning support positions.
Superintendent Tammy Whitfield explained the instructors who currently hold those positions at ARIN will have the first option to continue in the same roles at Blairsville-Saltsburg. District officials said the move should save B-S $107,000 in each of the first two years after the transfer and another $188,000 in the third year.
The board also approved an agreement for Keystone Rehabilitation Systems to provide athletic training services to the district for three years ending July 31, 2015.
Approved as volunteer baseball coaches were John Yard, for the Saltsburg team, and Jaison Blystone, for the Blairsville team.
The B-S board also adopted a 2012-13 school year calendar, with Aug. 29 and June 6 as the first and last days for student instruction.
Magness reported that Blairsville-Saltsburg is one of 145 districts that will be considered as finalists for a Keystones to Opportunity grant, in a program that is meant to boost reading achievement. According to Magness, only 50 to 75 grants ultimately will be awarded from a pot of $38 million; B-S is seeking $852,000. Selection of the awardees is expected by early April.
(c)2012 The Blairsville Dispatch (Blairsville, Pa.)
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