Monday night’s USD 443 Board of Education meeting offered an opportunity to clear up any questions before the planned deployment of iPads to every teacher in the district Feb. 18.
One of the concerns shared by several board members dealt with student access to various social media sites while in class.
“What kind of measures are in place to keep a classroom from going to Facebook when they’re supposed to be on another site,” President Lisa Killion asked.
Superintendent Alan Cunningham explained that, if need be, Facebook and related sites could be blocked. Board member Jeff Hiers asked why that wasn’t being done currently.
“Because we haven’t had a problem,” Cunningham said. “Our philosophy is to keep the internet as open as we can.”
He explained that the district has CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act) filtering software in place so students aren’t able to access inappropriate content, even in the realm of social media. Several of the teachers in the district utilize Facebook for instructional purposes, as well.
“Rather than tell them not to use it, we want to teach them how to use it appropriately and correctly,” Cunningham explained. “Kids are going to find a way to access those sites if they want. If they use a phone or a personal device, they can get around our filters.”
Hiers was concerned that the district was staying on budget after seeing charges for an updated firewall and training from Apple. The charges were for several days of training, both with teachers and the information technology department. The cost also included hour-long weekly phone calls to keep the district on track with everything needed to ensure a smooth implementation of the iPads into the curriculum.
“Going to the iPads this quickly has accelerated our need for an updated firewall but we would have needed that eventually anyway,” Cunningham said. “Right now we have 3500 devices going through and we’re talking about doubling that so we need to increase the capacity of our firewall.”
Hiers also mentioned some concerns he’d heard about having enough access points for the wireless devices and server space.
“There will be one access point in every classroom and multiple others in every school,” Cunningham said. “Each one can handle 25 users.”
In response to a question about the service provider, Cunningham said the district has experienced less than eight hours of “down time” in the past four years with Cox Communication.
“It just concerns me that we’re going to put the whole ball of wax in this [iPad initiative] and we could have problems,” Hiers added.
Page 2 of 2 - According to Cunningham, that’s why the district is implementing the iPad initiative in stages. He said that while the initiative comes at a cost of around $1.2 million a year, that’s less than what the district has traditionally spent on textbooks and the technology the iPads are replacing, such as teacher laptops and personal computers. The district has also devoted a great deal of effort toward professional development.
“We’ve developed a step-by-step video on how to get started and the teachers in the Vanguard group will help with training,” Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Mischel Miller, said
In addition, the district put together a guide for teachers that answers some of the questions they may have concerning care and usage of the iPad.
“My point is that we do have a plan in place and we’re going to take our time,” Miller said at Monday’s meeting. “We just want them to get it in their hands and take a look at how they can increase productivity and creativity in the classroom.”
Hiers added that he’d spoken with a surgeon who was looking at possibly relocating to Dodge City.
“When I told him we were looking to outfit our students with iPads, he was impressed,” Hiers said. “It’s a great selling point.”
In other business, the board approved the administrative and exempt contracts up for renewal as well as the budget assumptions for fiscal year 2014. In addition, the purchase of two trucks from Magouirk Chevrolet was approved.
Because of a grant awarded to the Y.M.C.A that allows for an after-school program, the S.A.F.E. program is being dissolved at the end of the school year.
“We don’t see any reason to offer competing programs,” Cunningham said.
Several administrators in the district travel to Topeka Feb. 25 for the annual Dodge City Night so the board meeting scheduled for that night has been changed to March 4. It will be held at noon at Central Elementary School.