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Board OKs Idea Of 1-To-1 Computing, Not Cost … Yet

POTTSTOWN PA – Michael Wagman openly joked he had been long-winded Tuesday (Jan. 28, 2014) in urging the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors to consider buying computers for every child in grades 6-12, beginning next year. But he also offered its members a straight-faced warning: avoid proceeding unless committed to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Pottsgrove school board member Patti Grimm, left, watches an educational lesson on a tablet during the board's Tuesday meeting

Pottsgrove school board member Patti Grimm, left, watches an educational lesson on a tablet during Tuesday’s meeting

“Please don’t do this if you think it’s going to be a one-time cost,” Wagman, the Pottsgrove School District’s director of technology and communication, said in asking for board support of his 1-to-1 computing initiative. “That’ll fail,” he bluntly noted.

Wagman’s departmental budget for the 2014-2015 academic year includes $400,000 to purchase mobile computing devices – tablets, laptops, or a combination of both – for every child in the middle and high school. His goal, Wagman said, is to redefine how Pottsgrove teaches and, in the process, give all students tools the administration believes they need for college and career success.

Directors didn’t disagree. They unanimously authorized Wagman to continue honing his plan and fill in its gaps. They did not, however, commit to spending anything on the proposal until they better know how the overall budget shapes up. Think of the tentative approval, board President Justin Valentine told Wagman, “as just dating. We’re not getting married yet.”

The district’s preliminary budget currently includes a more than $800,000 deficit. Dashing Wagman’s dream could cut that shortfall in half, he acknowledged. “It’s a hard choice to make, but that’s what budgets are about,” Wagman said.

Under his proposal, the district would spend somewhere between $293,000 and $413,000 next year to lease enough devices to offer one to every student in the six upper grades. On the pricier end, faculty machines would be upgraded too. Students would be responsible for but not own their devices, and would return them to the district at the end of each school year for cleaning, maintenance and updating.

  • Want to view Wagman’s entire presentation from Tuesday night? Find it here.

Wagman estimates tablets would have a life of about three years; laptops, four. As a result, about a third of the inventory could be swapped out every year for new devices, contributing in part to the continuing cost.

The expense would be reduced, in the first year at least, by termination of other device leases that Pottsgrove would not renew. Wagman also hopes the expense would be offset by having current charter school students, each of whom cost the district between $12,000 and $25,000 in state-mandated tuition, return to Pottsgrove with renewed interest. That alone could save $100,000, he figured.

What’s wrong with the way Pottsgrove currently teaches?, Wagman rhetorically asked. Nothing, he concluded, but studies show that providing each child with his or her own computing device “increases levels of engagement,” makes educational content more accessible to all students and, given the district’s demographically diverse population, ensures students at home can do work when they need to.

Pottsgrove surveys indicate a majority of district households have Internet service and at least one computer, Wagman explained, but often the computer is used by an adult solely for work or is shared by several family members during a day. That schedule sometimes limit students, he said; a one student-one device model avoids the problem.

Other surveys nationwide suggest there’s pride of ownership in the devices as well, according to Wagman, which he claimed lowers the chances of damage or theft.

One-to-one computing would be a significant expansion of the district’s current practice of shuffling carts filled with computers between classrooms. The concept is not new to some board members. Veteran directors were introduced to Wagman’s plan last year as a work-in progress. He promised then he’d be back in 12 months to talk about it further.

He was, with a lengthy presentation that at one point prompted hurry-up cues from across the board table. He apologized for taking longer than expected, but was obviously enthusiastic about the subject. “I think this can be a great thing for the future of our district,” he said.

Related to area schools’ one-to-one technology:

Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ Jan. 28 meeting):

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