Kanawha middle, high school students to receive iPads

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By Mackenzie Mays 
The Charleston Gazette

Every middle and high school student in Kanawha County will have access to an iPad starting this fall.

The Kanawha County Board of Education approved the school system’s Learning 20/20 plan on Monday, which will provide a slew of Apple products to students, teachers and principals across the county during the 2014/15 school year, in addition to extensive professional development for teachers on how to use the technology to enhance learning.

“We could no longer allow the students in Kanawha County Schools to have less technology than most students in this country. By doing this, we keep pace with other districts,” Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring said. “We’ve been working years to get here and we have finally arrived and we’re ready to move to the next step... It’s not the tablet itself that will increase achievement, but how the teachers will use that with students and how students will use that to guide their own instruction.”

The five-year plan will cost more than $14 million, but none of that money is coming from the school’s general budget, Duerring emphasized Monday.

Instead, the money will come from restricted funding sources designated only for technology purposes, in addition to a state funding stream that local school districts just recently gained more control of.

“The funding sources in the general budget are still very constrained, but these are restricted dollars that can only be used for technology funding. If we had to do it with the general budget, we could not do it because the money is not there,” Duerring said.

Kanawha County Schools entered into a leasing agreement with Apple instead of buying the devices, which will allow the equipment to be replaced every four years and prevent the district from being stuck with outdated technology, Duerring said.

Elementary schools will also see a significant increase in access to technology, though they will not see a 1:1 student-tablet ratio like the upperclassmen.

In schools where KCS has already piloted the Learning 20/20 program, those devices will be redistributed to fifth graders.

The program will also emphasize “anytime and anywhere learning,” which will provide students more access to learning materials on snow days and other time out of class.

Leah Sparks, technology director at Kanawha County Schools, said the human aspect of the plan is as important as the technology.

“In order for this initiative to work, training has to happen. We have to spend almost as much on training as we do on the equipment,” Sparks said. “If we don’t train and support our teachers, it is not going to work.”

School Board Vice President Robin Rector said she knows teachers may have some worries about the added professional development, but hopes they support the change.

“I know that we are going to be asking a lot out of our teachers this next year with Common Core and a new type of Westest coming, and this is going to put something else on their plate. But I hope they will appreciate this for our learners...” Rector said. “I hope that they will be able to jump on board with the spirit of this too and realize what a unique opportunity this is going to be for the learners of Kanawha Valley.”

Teachers and principals will receive their devices -- which include Macbook computers -- as soon as this summer. The first phase of schools will receive their iPads in October. Those schools include Herbert Hoover High School and Elkview Middle School.