Starting next school year, all middle school students in the Elizabethtown Area School District will be issued a Chromebook laptop as part of an initiative that will eventually give every student in the district a computer device for use at school and, for older students, at home.
The school board, including four new members just sworn in, heard an update on the one computer per student, or 1:1, initiative from director of technology Brian Lownsbery at the workshop session on Tuesday, Dec. 5. Lownsbery said the educational technology initiative has been around for a number of years.
“It’s one computer for one student. So every student would get some type of computing device that they would use and would be incorporated into their instruction,” he said.
Lownsbery explained later that ninth- through 12-graders and fifth- and sixth-graders at Bear Creek School would get laptops for the 2019-20 school year and be able to take them home. Grades four and younger would have more access to computers, both Chromebooks and iPads, but would not take them home.
Preparing to implement this initiative has involved replacing the network server, increasing the bandwidth to 1 gigabyte per second and upgrading wireless access, while realizing cost savings, Lownsbery told the board.
For instance, incorporating virtual servers cost $118,000, as opposed to $265,000 for physical servers.
“This is unglamorous, but it’s all things that have to happen in the background in order for us to make the instructional goals in the classroom a reality,” he said.
The district also replaced close to 1,200 Macbooks, used just at school, with Chromebooks at a cost of $264,000 compared to $1.09 million for new Macbooks. In addition, the district got bids to recycle old Macbooks, receiving $54,000 from 2012 to 2017.
Lownsbery and staff have consulted with other school districts regarding 1:1. The district also has been training teaching staff in advance of getting the devices.
“We really believe that it leverages technology in the classroom to give students an experience that they wouldn’t have without the technology,” Lownsbery said.
But, he added, “Our focus is not technology plus the instruction. It’s really the instruction plus the technology.”
In preparation for upcoming budget discussions, business manager George Longridge discussed the district’s outside partnerships and their impact on district resources in terms of benefits versus costs, such as wear and tear and deferred maintenance.
The district’s partnerships are with Greater Elizabethtown Area Recreation & Community Services, the Elizabethtown Fair board, the Elizabethtown Boys Club, Rheems Athletic Association and church groups, which all use district facilities. Longridge referred to “opportunity cost”: the benefit one could have received but gave up for something else.
GEARS, for instance, is headquartered at the middle school. Longridge asked whether the space could be used for other purposes. GEARS benefits the community by providing before- and after-school child care program and numerous recreational programs, mostly at school facilities. The board will soon review GEARS’ 10-year agreement, which expires at the end of 2019.
Regarding the fair, Longridge asked what else the district-owned property could be used for, and whether the August fair’s timing affects educational programming at the start of school. The fairground agreement expires on June 30, 2021.
Longridge also discussed transportation, which is budgeted at $2.5 million, with a state reimbursement of $955,000. The district has put out requests for proposals to potential transportation vendors, for January board approval.
A recent mandate requires transporting foster and homeless students to and from the district, he said. The district voluntarily transports students to and from child care centers. Longridge floated the idea of expanding the walking radius, which is now 1 mile for elementary students and 1.5 miles for secondary students.
The board also heard a proposal to put American Eagle recycled clothing bins at all seven school buildings. According to Adam Bergens, director of building and grounds, the district would receive $100 a month per bin. New board member Michael Martin asked if the district could possibly get more, say $150. Longridge said he would ask before the board votes on the matter at the Dec. 12 action meeting.
During its reorganization, the board re-elected Terry Seiders as president and M. Caroline Lalvani as vice president.
Also, starting in January, the board will meet the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, instead of the third Tuesday; December meetings will be the first and third Tuesdays. There will be no July meetings.