South Portland council OKs school technology purchases

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Brown, Dyer and Small Elementary Schools will wireless network upgrades to bring them up to speed with the rest of the city schools.

The City Council unanimously approved the $83,000 project July 18, along with $167,200 to purchase 250 Apple iPads for sixth-grade students and 50 iPad minis for the city’s elementary schools. 

The iPad purchase will meet the standard of one device per student; the average life of a device in the hands of a student is about four years, Andrew Wallace, director of technology for the district, told councilors Monday night. 

Nearly nine years ago, the district transitioned from using hard-wired computer labs to mobile classroom technology, Wallace said. 

Mobile devices used as instructional tools have proliferated in classrooms since then, Wallace said. “Laptops and tablets allow the flexibility of whole-class instruction, or differentiation for smaller groups of students,” he wrote in a memo to the council. 

Upgrades in the elementary schools are needed in order for the district to “best leverage our ongoing purchases of mobile technology and cloud-based software,” he said. 

In 2008 and 2010, the district outfitted all five elementary schools with infrastructure to accommodate wireless laptop computers. Much of the infrastructure from 2008 is outdated, however, Wallace said. Kaler and Skillen Elementary Schools’ upgrades were completed last year, leaving needed upgrades for Brown, Dyer and Small.  

Approximately half of the $83,000 cost to upgrade the wireless infrastructure will be reimbursed to the district through the federal E-Rate program, which subsidizes wireless technology in schools, he noted in his memo.  

The district approved a new technology plan last year that included putting more devices into the hands of younger students in kindergarten through fifth grade, Wallace said. 

In grades 6-12, students use iPads. In grades 3-5, “we are looking at introducing tools like (Google) Chromebooks to help kids with their writing processes,” and to accommodate more research-based learning, Wallace said. 

As for the city’s youngest students, the iPad is the preferable tool, because it’s better for “play-based” and “exploratory learning,” he said.

Russ Lunt, of Brigham Street, said he “can’t fathom” that students can use Google Chromebooks, for example, as a tool to learn how to write.

“It’s a changing world,” Mayor Tom Blake said. 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

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South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.
  • Chew H Bird

    All I know, and I have been working with technology for decades, is my business clients can reasonably expect 5-8 year lifespans of their various devices (except phones). These devices are all Windows based, remotely managed and maintained. While iPads are suitable toys for younger kids, recreational use, or limited specific task activities, older students should, (in my opinion), be steered away from the Apple mindset as they will need knowledge of other platforms as they advance. If the primary purpose of school is to provide education, starting with Apple and migrating in middle school to Windows, and opening high school to linux based technologies (like android devices) in addition to the other platforms is the proper way to go if we actually want to put students as the number one priority. Plus… Typing on an iPad is horrible.