June 30, 2014 in Idaho

Three North Idaho schools get state tech grants

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Betsy Russell photo

Kathy Baker, principal of Ponderosa Elementary School in Post Falls, accepts a $250,000 technology grant for the school on Monday in Boise
(Full-size photo)

BOISE – Sixth through 12th graders at a Sandpoint charter school all will get laptop computers, as will their teachers, and special ed classes at the school will get iPads, under state technology grants announced Monday.

Forrest M. Bird Charter School was one of 15 schools across Idaho to qualify for a share of $3 million in grants for tech pilot projects for the coming year, nabbing $317,516 that also will cover training, project presentation systems and more. But outgoing state schools Superintendent Tom Luna 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.

“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.”

This is the second year of the pilot technology grants; 11 schools shared in $3 million worth of grants last year.

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.

The grants 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 the 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. At the low end, Meridian Technical Charter High School will get $14,825, to make brain games on iPads available to 25 students with difficulties associated with the autism spectrum.

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.”

Also in Post Falls, Mullan Trail Elementary will get a $204,465 grant to install and enhance WiFi and network infrastructure, purchase Chromebooks, tablets, management systems and accessories, all aimed at turning the elementary school into a “Google School,” where students and teachers can interact as they work on documents.

Principal Katrina Kelly said, “They already have their Google accounts.”

The school currently has a traveling set of Chromebooks to allow kids to share documents and teachers to offer comments to students as they work; now, the project will go school-wide, she said.

Luna said, “The students who are attending these schools are fortunate.”

All the grants for pilot projects require analysis of how the projects work and possibilities for extending them to other school districts. House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said, “What we’re doing today doesn’t cover all of our students, but what we’re doing today lays the groundwork for all of our students.”

Luna’s laptop proposal was rejected by two-thirds of voters; it was part of a plan to increase the state’s focus on technology and online learning without increasing school funding.


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