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Board OKs Chromebook purchases
New 1:1 technology initiative will begin at Fennimore Middle/High School
A new 1:1 technology initiative at Fennimore Middle/High School will mean the purchase of a Chromebook for each student in grades six through 12. - photo by John Linden photo

The Fennimore Community Schools Board of Education has approved a technology initiative that will result in the purchase of a Chromebook for each Fennimore Middle/High School student in grades six through 12.

As a result of the Board’s action taken during its semi-monthly meeting on Wednesday evening, June 15, 400 Dell Chromebooks will be purchased at an annual cost of $22,300.

“Dell has had the greatest rating for price, functionality and durability, in case you drop it,” District Administrator Jamie Nutter told the Board. “One of the reasons we like the Dell is the ruggedness.”

Nutter showcased the ruggedness when he purposefully dropped the Chromebook on three separate instances during the meeting.

“You know that if every student is carrying those in their book bag or they are carrying them on the bus, they are going to get dropped,” Nutter said. “This would be a rental, free agreement. The students would each get one of these Chromebooks, but the parents would have to agree to take care of it. Kind of like a book rental. You get a book rental for the year, you are expected to bring that book back in good shape. Same thing with a Chromebook.

“As a part of that rental agreement the parents will need to sign off to say this is what it will cost if we have to replace the keyboard, this is what it will cost if we have to replace the screen. We will check these back in at the end of each year to make sure they function and work.”

Nutter told the Board if a parent chooses not to sign a rental agreement a Chromebook will be provided for their student during the school day, but not outside of the classroom.

“It is just like if they don’t take their textbook, they can’t do the homework,” Nutter said. “There is as much risk that the cover could get torn, that a page could get torn.

“As we move forward, instead of carrying these big book bags with books in them, eventually the textbooks will be on the Chromebooks as well. So instead of paying $175 per book we will be paying $15 for an app that is the book that goes on there.”

Nutter told the Board the administrative team is looking into ways to assist students that may not have a WiFi connection at home.

“If somebody doesn’t have WiFi at home, they can still use Google docs, which would be the same as Microsoft Word,” he said. “They would still be able to use that offline and then once they get back online at school it will connect with the Cloud.

“What we are looking into and what we are trying to partner with right now is that students would have access to bandwith and have a cap on it, but it would work with cell phone towers. They would get data through cell phone towers. We are working on that to try to get that.”

If a student lives out of the reach of a cell phone tower, that will need to be considered as well, Nutter said.
Nutter shared the need for the introduction of Chromebooks to the classroom during an April meeting of the Board.

“In 2013 when we started working on strategic planning, one of the priorities as a Board that you established was technology. As we have continued to move forward with that, we have really been researching best practices with that,” he said. “Around 2011, 2012, we were leaders in that area and we had been recipients of several major grants. In the meantime our focus has really been on the building and infrastructure and Smart Boards and labs and those kind of things. As that has been going on, others have caught up to use and we have even fallen behind in some of those areas of technology.”

Chromebooks will be utilized as part of the school district’s one-to-one initiative.

“A one-to-one initiative simply means that every student has a device in their hands for their class and they are expected to use it just like if you were walking with a book to your class, you are expected to walk with your device,” Nutter said. “Every student has been expected to take a notebook, take a pen, take a book to their classes. Now they are expected to have technology as we move toward a one-to-one initiative.”

In the past year, the school district’s administrative team has also considered iPads and laptops.

“We felt that Chromebooks, as a tool, would provide the greatest amount of flexibility for students,” Nutter said. “Students could complete their homework, the majority of the apps we would use are free, and we could use Google School, which has a whole series of interactive tools between teachers and students.”

The annual expense is made possible through federal revenue via the e-rate program, in combination with less expenses related to textbooks and computer labs.

“The companies have come up with new programs now where they will spread it out over four years with zero interest, a lease-to-own plan,” Nutter explained. “We can do that for $88,000 over four years, split that down to $22,000 and spend about $3,000 less than we were going to in the first place and then have a device that all students in grades 6-12 will be able to rent for starting next year.

“If you would have told me this a year ago, that we were going to be able to do this, I would have said ‘No way.’”

In other action, the Board:

• approved hiring Jason Rutkowski to serve as a fifth grade teacher. Rutkowski will fill the vacancy created when Ryan Killian resigned last month.

“He had a lot of excitement and a lot of learning that fits with our fifth grade curriculum,” Elementary School Principal Carmen Burkum said. “But I think the thing that impressed me the most is what he has been doing lately.

“He finished his team-teaching in January and then continued on as a special education aide at the Highland School District. He has been working with both ends of the spectrum.

“He has been differentiating instruction for some students but he has also been working in math, working on gifted and talented things for fifth grade students.”

• approved the retirement of middle school special education paraprofessional Kate Randall.

“She did an excellent job for us,” Nutter said. “If you never met Ms. Randall she was very soft-spoken and very patient with the students.”

The Board also approved the resignation of freshman volleyball coach Shelly Winkers.

“I have loved coaching and getting to know so many young ladies,” Winkers wrote in her letter of resignation. “Thanks for giving me the opportunity.”