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Originally published: 2012-12-11 00:51:24
Last modified: 2012-12-11 00:56:34

Schools to roll out iPad pilot project

Students at Mabel Elementary and Watauga High School will likely begin using iPads in the classrooms in February as part of a pilot project approved Monday by the Board of Education.

The concept, proposed by Superintendent David Kafitz, is intended to evaluate the possibilities and shortfalls of using the Apple tablet computers across the school system for a variety of educational uses.

“We are excited to go about this and kind of stick our foot in the water and see what happens,” Kafitz said.

The school system plans to order about 130 iPads for students and staff, Kafitz said. The purchase also will include several MacBook Air laptops for classroom use and $1,000 per school to buy educational apps through the iTunes Store. Other accessories and equipment also are included.

The devices will go into a sixth-, fourth- and third-grade classroom at Mabel and into two classes at WHS: junior honors U.S. history and a physics class, Kafitz said. The teachers selected for the pilot are expected to be notified Tuesday.

In addition to serving about 100 students, the technology will be used by those select teachers, principals and the IT facilitators at both schools.

The teachers will decide whether the students may take the iPads home, and Kafitz says he hopes and expects that will happen at least at the high school.

Students and parents won’t be expected to fork over cash if the iPad is damaged, he added. Each iPad will come with a cover to protect against wear and tear and a two-year warranty in case of more serious damage. The schools also will have a couple of extras on hand if one needs to be repaired.

The entire project is expected to cost about $156,700. Kafitz said the expense will be covered from the budgeted capital outlay fund and from cost savings achieved in the current budget.

“We’re not going to let this get in the way of personnel,” Kafitz said. “We’re not going to let this get in the way of instructional supplies that our teachers need on a day-to-day basis.”

Part of the pilot’s purpose is to determine where the snags exist and gather feedback.

If the school’s wireless Internet fails, or teachers can’t find valuable uses or the devices break constantly, that’s part of what the schools will note.

Some Watauga County households do not have Internet access, and Kafitz said Mabel was chosen specifically to figure out what problems arise in communities with incomplete Internet access. WHS, on the other hand, was selected as a way of seeing whether iPads would be a different option when the current student laptops — now in their third year of use — need to be replaced.

 But Kafitz says he hopes the results will be positive, including greater access to digital textbooks and online resources, improved student engagement and fewer discipline problems.

The state is pushing to move toward computerized End-of-Grade and End-of-Course tests, so these schools may be able to preview such methods, he said.

Teachers already have undergone a couple of training sessions and will undergo more as the pilot begins, Kafitz said.

“We’ve tried to think of everything to make this as successful as possible, and we are very excited to be able to take this next step,” he said.

School board members asked several questions Monday before voting unanimously for the school system to move forward with the purchase.

Monday’s board meeting was the first for newly elected members Ron Henries, Brenda Reese and Barbara Kinsey, and Henries noted some hesitancy in making such a move right off the bat.

“Being the very first board meeting, I’m a little bit concerned to be asked to spend this kind of money,” he said. “I like the pilot. I think it’s the way to go. I think it’s a good idea. I’m just a little bit concerned.”

The pilot will pave the way toward a technology initiative currently expanding throughout the school system. Kafitz said the board members who hired him expressed interest in expanding use of the tools, and WCS held a community presentation with Apple representatives in September to demonstrate the iPads’ abilities.

There’s much to be figured out — including who would pay — if the technology plan expands countywide, but Kafitz said he’s excited to see what happens.

“We’re going to watch and see,” he said.