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No room in budget for more iPads at FWCS

Members of the Fort Wayne Community Schools technology and curriculum teams might dream of handing technology devices to every student, but the reality is, the district just can’t afford it.

During a work session Monday, FWCS board members heard about how the district is embracing the use of technology in its schools at levels it can afford.

A number of Indiana school districts have purchased iPads or other personal computing devices for all their students, including East Allen County Schools’ recent purchase of iPads for all students in grades six through 12.

FWCS Chief Operations Officer Charles Cammack said the purchase of the devices alone would cost the district $5 million on an annual basis, a figure that doesn’t include additional staffing or software purchases. The district’s technology department currently operates on a budget of about $2 million, Cammack said.

And he said not much evidence is out yet to support that the devices are improving student achievement.

Technology Director Jack Byrd said the district’s “purposeful deployment” policy first identifies how technology can support student needs, instead of purchasing technology first and figuring out later how it can be used in the classroom. He said the district has also taken recent steps to improve its infrastructure to allow more access for students and teachers while ensuring security for those using its network for Internet access.

Superintendent Wendy Robinson said the district will continue to evaluate where it can cut costs in order to free up money for technology purchases. She said the district has begun phasing out textbooks in favor of digital resources in areas it can. The majority of the devices the district has purchased are funded through short-term loans.

“There’s just no money to set aside,” Robinson said.

Currently, the district has about 12,000 desktop and laptop computers and 5,000 tablets. Each school level – elementary, middle and high school – uses its devices differently.

Most of the iPads at the elementary level are at Scott Academy where the district is piloting a model in which each student uses a device. In middle schools, the focus has been on use in sixth-grade language arts classes. The majority of high schools use iPads for credit recovery or for students learning English as a second language.

District officials also stressed the importance of teacher training before technology deployment. It uses a matrix to see where teachers are and how they can progress to using technology in the classroom more regularly and purposefully. While some training is ongoing, Robinson said the district will likely hold most of its training sessions over the summer.

“We’re pacing this enough so as not to lose a child’s education or wasting dollars,” Robinson said.