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SACS happy with success of laptops

Despite issues, board hears many positives

Southwest Allen County Schools has faced some challenges in implementing a program that puts laptops in the hands of about 4,500 students, but that’s to be expected, school board members were told.

The board heard mostly positive feedback during an update Tuesday on the district’s initiative, including feedback from students, administrators and teachers.

In 2011, SACS distributed laptops to all its 1,700 middle school students.

This year, all 2,200 high school students received laptops, which they are allowed to take home. The report to the board began with a video that included student and teacher interviews about how the laptops are used and what has changed in the classroom since students received them.

One of the main positives listed by teachers is that it makes the classroom more student-centered.

“I’m not doing all the lecturing anymore,” Jamie Smith, an English teacher at Homestead High School, said in describing how groups of students in her classes work collaboratively, then present information to the entire class by plugging one laptop into a projector.

Smith and Scott Hill, also a Homestead teacher, said they’ve been surprised at how smoothly the implementation has gone.

Don Chase, director of technology, said the program hasn’t been without challenges, but the district has made changes or is evaluating further changes like higher security measures for tech-savvy students and the purchase of a protection plan for damaged laptops.

Administrators at the meeting cited students playing games at inappropriate times as the biggest offense, but once the behavior is corrected by the teacher, students usually stop. Schools have reported just a handful of disciplinary action related to students damaging the laptops.

The district spent about $16,000 in repairs in the first year of the program, with more than half of the amount spent to repair laptop screens. Chase said he would have predicted spending much more. Other districts have far fewer laptops, he said.

This year, the district purchased a protection plan for repairs, a cost that parents will help support through a $15 fee per semester.

Chase said another challenge moving forward will be continuing to offer teachers technological support and professional development with the staff and resources the district has. He, and others who spoke about the initiative, stressed that the program is still in its early stages, comparing it to the very beginning of a marathon.

Moving forward, Chase said, the district might want to evaluate instituting student email accounts through the district to improve communication and look at allowing middle school students to take the laptops home.

Board President Mark Gilpin thanked teachers and administrators who spoke during the meeting for their openness and honesty in providing feedback. Secretary John Blum said feedback from the program showed progress, even after less than two years.

“This is better than we could have hoped, but at the end of the day, it’s early in the game,” Blum said.