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G/T School District Approves Technology Initiative

By Staff | Feb 9, 2010

GRAETTINGER – Students in the Graettinger/Terril Community School District will take a quantum leap in technology in the upcoming school year following the adoption of an educational initiative known as One-to-One. The G/T School Board approved the expenditure of $468,000 to fund the four-year initiative on a 4-2 roll-call vote during a special meeting Thursday evening in Graettinger.

The 1:1 initiative involves providing Apple Macbook laptop computers for each student in grades five through 12 in the district, along with software for each machine, as well as training for faculty members. The students and faculty would utilize the computers in the daily educational environment, with instructors implementing the computers and their use into daily lessons.

G/T faculty members Teresa Alesch and Darci Farnum presented the school board members with a pair of video presentations in support of the initiative. Alesch noted that by providing the computers through the 1:1 initiative, students would be able to experience improvement in writing skills, student involvement and parental involvement in student achievement.

Representatives of the district have visited the Newell-Fonda Community School District in recent weeks, observing that school’s 1:1 initiative in action. Middle School Principal Jesse Ulrich and high school principal Chris Richard reviewed some of their findings from those visits about the benefits of the initiative, and acknowledging that there were unknowns to consider.

“It would be naïve for us to think we could throw computers at people and just make it go,” Richards said. “There will be plenty of training for our faculty before they begin working with the students with the computers.”

Ulrich pointed out that the computers would be an additional classroom tool, along with textbooks. “But at the same time, we don’t want to walk into a classroom and see some kids with their noses in their laptop every hour of the school day. That’s just not realistic.”

Several other school districts in the area are also looking at the 1:1 initiative or have also started the process, including Clay Central-Everly, Spirit Lake, Galva-Holstein and Manson Northwest Webster, according to Richards. “By taking part in the initiative, our students and faculty can build bridges with their counterparts in these schools. That’s a huge door that could open up through this process.”

“There are unknowns we don’t know about but we’ll have to work through it,” Richards added. “Both Jesse and I stand behind this proposal. It is a change that can be a positive bridge to bring our community back into our schools and give us a bridge with other schools.”

High School instructor Darci Farnum pointed out that faculty of the district is excited about the initiative and the opportunity to be a part of a new frontier in education. “We have the teachers now in this district. All we are missing is the 21 st century technology.”

As presented by Alan Hansen, Apple sales representative, the cost of the proposal would be $117,000 per year, for a four year period, which would include $30,000 for training and peripherals, and $36,000 for software and licensing for the software, for a total of $468,000. All told, a total of 235 Macbook laptops would purchased through the initiative.

“We could tie the 1:1 into our Iowa Core Development,” noted District Superintendent Randy Collins, “and, we are receiving $60,000 from the Microsoft Settlement, and 15 percent of that can be used for professional development and training for this. I would be supportive of using the Microsoft Settlement for the 1:1 initiative.”

Collins continued, “We’ve been conservative, looking at this and the budget, trying to cover projected expenses, and the bottom line is, we can afford it now between the two districts. Ninety-nine percent of the cost will come from the state penny tax.”

School Board President Kyle Norris agreed, noting that after he looked at the budgets and projected expenses, he didn’t think anything would suffer by taking on the initiative.

Public comments to the board included an observation that with the initiative in place, the district could become very attractive for new teachers because of the technology.

“Twenty-seven years ago, we created a mission statement for our school to prepare competent students for an ever-changing world,” elementary instructor Becky Masters said. “This is our chance to continue to do just that.”

Discussion by the board members was both pro and con. Board member Kevin Jensen noted that the proposal would cost about $500 per student per year. “That’s not overly expensive to give our kids laptops to be the best they could be.”

However, board member Eugene Buhr had reservations. “I think its too much money for what we get. These are the low-end laptops. I don’t understand why we have to do this right now. Why not wait a couple of years when the machines will be even better?”

“Now, I’m not anti-Apple, they have the best programs by far,” Buhr continued. “I just think this program is in its infancy and it will be better in a year or two.”

“I’m financially conservative,” Norris said. “And if we didn’t have projections that we could cover this, I wouldn’t support this. But, if we do this now, we’re ahead of the curve.”

“I don’t want to hold out a year because I’m scared of what’s in the future,” noted Board member Roger Schmitt. “I think we have more to lose by waiting than by moving forward.”

“Let’s stop the bleeding,” agreed board member Chelle Bisenius. “This is about our ability as a district to adapt to what our kids need. We’ll see better grades from the kids that struggle.”

“There are problems that we don’t see now,’ Jensen noted, “but that’s why we have Mr. Richards, Mr. Ulrich and Mr. Collins to handle them and work them out.

“Our focus still has to be about education,” noted board member Galen Chicoine.

After a moment, Jensen moved to accept the initiative proposal, pending approval of the district’s legal counsel. Schmitt offered a second, and on a roll call vote, Norris, Schmitt, Bisenius and Jensen voted aye, with Buhr and Chicoine casting nay votes.

Upon the execution of the purchase agreement, laptops for the faculty will be delivered before the end of the current school year, with the student machines to be delivered at the start of the 2010-2011 school year.