District rolls out laptop initiative

FORTVILLE — Mt. Vernon will soon hop onto the laptop bandwagon and provide students with computers within the next year or two.

The initiative to move to one-to-one computing — the last district in the county to do so — was discussed Monday by the school board, when director of technology Greg Rollo announced the district’s wireless infrastructure is about to be upgraded to support the new devices.

How many laptops, what brand will be purchased and which grade levels will get them first remains in question.

“We are now getting the infrastructure, and this is what I consider the base. This is a great jumping platform for us to get these devices going,” Rollo said.

He said he has been meeting with a team of administrators and teachers for nearly a year to discuss laptops. He’d like to issue laptops to teachers by fall break. Teachers would then have at least a semester to get used to the devices and come up with plans on how to integrate technology into the classroom before students would receive them, perhaps by the 2016-17 school year.

While Rollo’s team has been discussing how to roll out a one-to-one computing program for all ages, they might start the initiative the high school.

The new superintendent and the curriculum director will have a big part in those discussions, Rollo said, referring to administrators the school board will hire in the coming months.

Southern Hancock was the first county district to fully integrate electronic learning from kindergarten through high school through Apple products.

Eastern Hancock began its program in 2011 and now provides take-home NetBook computers to middle and high school students. Fifth-graders use computers but do not take them home.

Greenfield-Central will roll out MacBook Airs to every high school student by this fall.

Integrating computers into the classroom is the way education is going, and it was time for Mt. Vernon to get on board, said Tony May, president of the Mt. Vernon school board.

“I just think there are so many opportunities to enhance education,” he said.

The board plans to hire a new superintendent May 5, and May said finding someone who values implementing a laptop program for students has been a top priority in the interview process.

Eighth-graders Nyjia Thompson and Malaya Canares were excited Tuesday to hear laptops might be in their near future.

Malaya recently transferred to the district from an Indianapolis school and said she has missed having an iPad.

Nyjia said there are many students who don’t have a computer at home, so the school providing laptops will help fill those gaps. Plus, laptops are convenient, she said.

“You don’t have to take home a bunch of books every day,” Nyjia said. “Having a laptop would be easier for us to handle.”

From new wiring to switches to wireless access points, upgrades to the buildings’ infrastructure will cost nearly $200,000. The school district could recoup some of the money through a grant.

Mt. Vernon schools currently have the strictest cellphone policy in the county, but that could loosen up with wireless infrastructure in place. The board briefly discussed Monday whether to let students bring their own devices to the classroom to use for educational purposes while they wait for laptops to arrive.

Administrators are trying to figure out how to pay for the new computers and are weighing whether students would be required to chip in to the devices through a textbook rental fee.

Rollo said he’s met with representatives from Apple and Google to discuss their devices and how they can be integrated into the classroom.

“We’re open to everything right now,” he said. “We’re still looking.”