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By Terry Dean
The first rollout of iPad tablets will begin this fall in grades 3-5. The expansion continues in the 2014-2015 school year at the middle schools. The total cost for the iPads — along with software, accessories and staff development — comes to roughly $2 million.
It is among the largest investments in technology D97 has made to date. And according to Superintendent Al Roberts and other officials, it should not come as a huge surprise to the public.
The district's successful 2011 referendum campaign included a promise to invest more in technology. Since then, the district has spent money on such things as smart boards, tech specialists, staff training and software — including about a half-million dollars on the FastForWord computer program. In 2008, the district launched a five-year tech plan, at the time estimated to cost around $4 million.
D97 kindergarteners have been using iPads since 2011. The devices are also used in some first- and second-grade classrooms and were purchased by the PTOs.
Roberts, who was hired in 2010 as the district was gearing up for its referendum campaign, insists these investments are necessary for student learning.
"I don't think we can delay on school reform," Roberts said at an Aug. 6 D97 board meeting where the topic was discussed. "And this, in my way of thinking, is the fastest and most powerful way we can move forward with authentic reform."
The iPad plan still needs board approval — a vote is scheduled for Aug. 20. The rollout would include an annual $22 technology fee per device for families. For low-income families, the district will help cover that fee cost.
At the Aug. 6 meeting where the proposal was discussed, board members were generally pleased with the overall plan. But there were some questions about the cost and the tech fee. The early September rollout may not be enough time to get parents up to speed about the devices, some board members noted.
In response, Roberts said the administration would look to tweak the rollout period, possibly pushing it back to a late-September start.
"The timing is going to be an issue for some parents," said board member Peter Traczyk, who generally liked the plan. "I think if they saw the overall plan, it wouldn't be an issue, but I think you're going to freak people out. And I couple that with my concern that the staff won't be ready. … I just feel like we're going to be freaking people out with this kind of quick rollout."
D97 board member Denise Sacks, who supports the plan, also had concerns about the timing. But she noted a positive impact the devices can have on equity.
"One of the biggest things for me is the way this improves access for all of our students — the equality factor that comes into play here for students who don't have parents with iPhones, who don't have iPads or laptops. I think it's easy to forget about that, and this gives them a way to be in on that."
The district will spend about $10,000 in the first year and about double that in year two, to cover the cost for low-income families, explained Lisa Schwartz, D97's director of instruction and assessment.
The iPad expansion, however, will not include first- and second-graders at this point, said D97 spokesperson Chris Jasculca.
The district, he said, wants to wait and see how this extension goes before expanding it further.
"We want to look at how the technology is utilized and implements, and how this will impact student achievement. As you know, technology can change to the point where what you bought five years ago can become outdated very quickly," he said. "This will give us a chance to test the iPads and study their effectiveness."
PDF of iLearn 97 Overview