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Shawnee Mission will provide take-home computers to all its students

Updated: 2014-01-28T23:51:59Z


The Kansas City Star

The Shawnee Mission School District come August will be the latest — and largest — area district to put take-home personal computers in the hands of each of its students.

At a cost of $20 million, it is joining the rising tide of districts making the decision for 1-to-1 computer distribution, which doesn’t come lightly in the world of rapidly changing technology.

The “magnitude” of placing technology in the hands of 2,100 staff members and 27,000 children weighed heavily on the district’s planning, Superintendent Jim Hinson said.

But the consensus from teachers and families pushed the yearlong planning effort to create classrooms with technology-rich instruction. Improving technology was “the No. 1 concern” Hinson said he heard when he became superintendent last summer.

“Our kids are coming into school with technology in their lives,” Hinson said. To keep it from them in school “doesn’t make sense.”

All high school students will receive MacBook Air laptop computers when they return to school this August. All middle school students will receive iPad Air tablets. Elementary students will receive iPad Air tablets in phases over the next two school years.

Teachers and administrators will get a head start, receiving their computers in March to begin preparing for the 2014-2015 school year.

The funds will come from the district’s capital outlay budget — separate from the general operating budget. The Shawnee Mission school board approved the plan in a unanimous decision Monday night.

Schools are forever scrambling to keep up with the increasing demands of technology and the pressure to change classroom instruction to meet the competitive world awaiting students after graduation. Costs are risky when technology can too quickly become obsolete.

District teams explored and tested the technology landscape during the past year, weighing options such as using PCs or Apple devices, Hinson said. They considered the availability of educational apps, the longevity of the hardware, the ability to upgrade, battery life and other aspects.

The focus of their work wasn’t the devices themselves, he said, but how the district would expand its classroom instruction.

While some teachers may need more encouragement than others, many teachers were leading the push, Hinson said. They have been making budget requests and seeking grants to bring such technology into the classrooms on their own.

Educators envision classrooms that use technology to customize instruction — identifying more quickly students who need extra help and allowing students to move ahead at their own pace, free to explore special interests inside and outside the classroom.

Teachers play a more active role moving student to student, with less time spent lecturing. And computers give teachers a rapid return of information to tell them how students are progressing.

The technology expands students’ opportunities in research and project learning. Teachers can make instructional videos and create media networks within the class to share data and feedback.

The technology-rich classroom demands a lot of teachers, however, in ongoing training and in changing what are sometimes long-held classroom strategies.

“I’m like a lot of the teachers,” Hinson said. “I had to learn how technology can be integrated in the classroom.”

But the technology revolution does not lose sight of the fact that “the most important factor in the classroom is the teacher,” he said.

Apple consultants will help the district prepare its teachers. Classrooms also will use Apple TVs — small devices that can project the images from a device onto a wall screen — to help with training and instruction.

The Kansas City, Kan., school district was the first in the area to start a 1-to-1 program, in 2007, but other districts making the leap since then include North Kansas City, Liberty and Kansas City.

Pretty much every school system is trying to embed new technology in its classrooms.

The Blue Valley district takes a blended approach. It is regularly piloting emerging technology and classroom strategies to enhance instruction, spokeswoman Kristi McNerlin said.

Olathe also is testing several approaches, including a plan in August to allow all high school students to bring their own devices to school.

In Shawnee Mission’s phasing in of iPad Air tablets at the elementary level, the district will identify 10 schools in the coming weeks that will receive devices for each student. The remaining 23 schools will get devices for 2015-2016 — but they will have iPads on carts in the meantime available to all classes.

Students in grades three through six will be able to take their devices home. Students in kindergarten through second grade will leave theirs at school.

The district is still determining what insurance fee it may want to collect from families to protect against computers that are broken or lost. The district is contemplating a fee of $25 to $50 that may or may not be mandatory.

“I think it is important that families have some ownership,” he said.

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to

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