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Luna announces tech grants to 15 schools, says statewide effort still needed on school tech

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna today announced the 15 schools throughout the state that will receive a share of $3 million in technology grants for pilot projects next year, but noted that 99 schools applied for the grants, and if they’d all gotten what they sought, the total would have been more than $26 million; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.  “I think the answer has to be a statewide effort, and I think you have to tap into the economy of scale in order to make this available for all,” Luna said. “I think what we’ve demonstrated through the pilots is that there is a demand for one-to-one environments … in the classroom.”

Many, but not all, of the successful grant applicants plan to use the money to provide every student with a high-tech device, whether it’s a Chromebook, an iPad, a laptop computer or a combination of school-provided and bring-your-own devices. Luna’s signature “Students Come First” plan, which voters rejected in 2012, sought in part to provide every high school teacher and student in the state with a laptop computer.

Luna noted that the technology already has changed significantly since he made his proposal. “I still believe that there has to be a statewide solution, or we just create winners and losers,” he said. But he said that could take a variety of forms, from providing more per-student funding to school districts for technology to offering several state-level contracts that districts could access at their option to take advantage of economies of scale. “This demand is not going to go away, whether I’m here or anyone else is here,” said Luna, who is leaving office when his second term ends at the end of the year.

A roomful of excited school officials from throughout the state was at the State Department of Education offices today to receive the grant awards. They range from a high of $516,619 for South Middle School in Nampa, which will use the money to purchase computers, Apple TVs, projectors, I-Pads for every teacher, video technology for classrooms, and to open school two to three nights a week to allow parents and students at the large, largely low-income school to come in and work online with a teacher’s help; to a low of $14,825, for Meridian Technical Charter High School, to offer 25 students with difficulties associated with the autism spectrum access to brain games on iPads designed to enhance their learning.

Kathy Baker, principal of Ponderosa Elementary School in Post Falls, said her school will use its $250,000 grant to “gamefy” learning by allowing students to work individually and earn digital badges when they move up to higher levels; the gaming will revolve around the Idaho Core Standards and include reading, writing and math, with options both for those who struggle and for advanced learners. The project includes Chromebooks and accessories. “We’re just thrilled to pieces,” Baker said. “We know that we have to do something different for kids.”

Forrest M. Bird Charter School in Sandpoint is getting $317,516, and will provide a laptop computer for every student and teacher, grades 6-12, iPads for special education classes, projection presentation systems and training. Mary Jensen, education leader at the school, said, “We’re just really excited for being able to innovate in our classrooms through the use of technology.”

Cascade Junior-Senior High School will use its $38,094 grant to integrate school-provided Chromebooks with students’ bring-your-own devices to bridge the “digital divide” between its lower and higher income students. Fruitland Elementary School will expand a pilot project that used iPads in second-grade classrooms school-wide, with its $345,230 grant. Lapwai Middle-High School’s $32,986 grant will provide a high-tech projection system in every classroom to turn regular white boards into interactive learning surfaces. Mullan Trail Elementary’s $204,465 grant will install and enhance WiFi and network infrastructure, purchase Chromebooks, tablets, management systems and accessories, to turn the elementary school into a “Google School,” where allow students and teachers can use apps to interact as they work on documents. Click below for a full list of the grant recipients.

Eleven schools to get state tech grants; Paul not on list

Eleven schools around the state, including one charter school, one virtual charter school, five middle schools, three high schools and one elementary school, have been selected for the $3 million in pilot project grants for school technology that state lawmakers approved this year. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna announced the picks – from among 81 schools that applied – in a news conference this morning at Discovery Elementary School in Meridian, one of the chosen schools.

“The demand for technology in our schools continues to grow,” Luna said. “Through these grants, we will be able to meet the needs of just some. In the future, we will take what we learn from these pilots and expand our efforts so all students – not just those who are fortunate enough to attend these schools – but every student in Idaho has equal access to the best educational opportunities.”

Voters in November rejected Luna’s “Students Come First” school reform legislation, which would have paid for a laptop computer for every high school student in the state, while shifting priorities within Idaho’s public school budget to include a new focus on online learning.

At the Meridian elementary school, a $370,501 grant will pay for a “classroom rotational model of shared devices to individualize instruction and create innovative, self-directed learners.” Kuna Middle School, with an $891,200 grant, will provide Chromebooks to each student in math class, as part of an effort to address struggles in math and writing. McCall-Donnelly High School will give every student “access to iPad technology,” in a $150,000 project designed in part by a student there, Brooke Thomas.

Sugar-Salem High School in eastern Idaho will give every student an HP 4440S notebook computer and access to a wireless network, with its $454,783 grant. Moscow Middle School will pilot interactive whiteboards, clickers, formative assessments and cloud technology as part of a $180,000 project to transform the classroom approach. Compass Public Charter School will set up three computer labs and provide three classroom sets of iPads; the Idaho Distance Education Academy will pilot digital textbooks and expand its instructional management system; Buetler Middle School in Dayton will provide every student an iPad with its $138,719 grant, along with training on “digital citizenship.”

You can read the full list of grants here. Not on the list: Funds to continue a grant-funded iPad program at Paul Elementary that was initially funded by Park City, Utah-based iSchool Campus. 

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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