Program puts 21st century tools in students’ hands
The 1:1 Laptop Initiative aims to provide every middle and high school student in Union County Public Schools a laptop to incorporate as part of his or her curriculum and instruction. Superintendent Dr. Ed Davis said the program fits his vision of “Innovations in Education,” including the critical components of globalization and technology integration.
If the results from the pilot are any indication, the 1:1 Laptop Initiative will greatly benefit the county’s middle and future high school students. According to a report delivered to the Union County Board of Education in September, the laptop pilot, involving 120 students at Monroe Middle and Weddington High schools, saw higher academic achievement, greater attendance and fewer discipline issues.
“Watching this sort of technology in action is amazing,” said school board member and Waxhaw resident Marce Savage. One teacher told Savage she can tell if a child was daydreaming based on where the student was focusing on the screen, and another teacher was pleased to get immediate interactive feedback regarding students’ understanding of the subject matter.
While some may be less than thrilled at the notion of a high-tech education, Savage takes a different perspective. “This is their world,” she explains. “We need to learn to embrace it.”
“The Laptop Initiative was two to three years in the making and came after studying the idea carefully,” Davis explained. “It required us to look closely at other school systems across the country that had similar programs.”
Sixth-graders across the county began getting laptops earlier this month, with seventh-graders getting them in 2011-12 and eighth-graders in 2012-13. Altogether, laptops should go to about 9,000 middle-school students.
“The rollout has gone very smoothly,” Davis said,. “We anticipate great feedback later this month.”
With budget cuts and layoffs looming, questions about the Laptop Initiative’s future are natural. If state projections hold, the Union school district may have to lay off 120 teachers by next fall to accommodate more than $14 million in cuts.
The 1:1 Laptop Initiative remains safe for the short term, Davis said. “We struck a deal with Dell in September that covers the first two years,” he explained, “and were able to set aside funds prior to this to dedicate to the program.”
An early cancellation of the program, or a delay, does not appear an option for plugging the county’s budget shortfall.
According to the agreement signed in September, the county paid about $1.7 million to Dell in return for laptops, service and maintenance. The agreement says the school district can cancel after the first year with 60 days notice, and that early cancellation is subject to “payment of wind-down status.”
The final two years of the initial rollout will cost the school district about $1.9 million annually, Davis told the school board in September.
Funds used for the Laptop Initiative came from the district’s budget for technology and instructional supplies and can’t be shifted to pay salaries.
“You can’t shuffle money,” Savage said, explaining that funds earmarked for one area can’t be used for something else, even in the event of a surplus. “You have to use the money for the purpose under which it was raised.”
Funding after the initial two years, however, appears less certain.
“We just don’t know,” Davis said.