Mt. Vernon schools propose laptops for all

FORTVILLE — Every Mt. Vernon student could be issued a laptop this upcoming school year, and the school board will consider a $2.5 million loan for the program Monday.

School officials have been considering a one-to-one computer initiative for roughly a year now, but the original plan called for phasing in the computers starting with the 2016-17 school year.

That plan has changed to start with a fully integrated one-to-one computing program when school resumes, incoming Superintendent Shane Robbins said.

Robbins acknowledges the program is on a fast track but points to his experience with such a program. While he was superintendent there, Northwestern Consolidated School District in Shelby County issued laptops to students and ensured teachers were trained on how to incorporate them in the classroom.

A superintendent with experience in technology was the No. 1 qualification the school board was looking for in its search to replace Superintendent Bill Riggs, who retires at the end of this month.

“Look at just about any job. I don’t care if it’s McDonald’s or if it’s in the engineering field,” Robbins said. “It requires a certain level of technology competency. We need to make sure what we’re doing in the schools mimics the expectation of them on what they’re going to be doing when they leave the school.”

Robbins’ plan calls for the purchase of 4,100 computers for students and teachers: 1,800 iPads for Grades K-5 and 2,300 Chromebooks for Grades 6-12.

On the school board’s agenda Monday is a proposed $2.5 million loan, which business manager Brian Tomamichel said the corporation could get with a 1.4 percent interest rate. Tomamichel said the corporation could do a three-year lease of the computers with a $460,000 annual payment.

The school corporation also will use textbook rental fees to pay for the computers. Grades K-5 will see a flat $135 rental fee, and Grades 6-12 will pay $135 plus any extra fees applicable to the classes they’re taking.

Tomamichel said K-5 parents had been paying from $117 to $140 a year for textbooks, while Grades 6-12 could pay several hundred dollars based on their courses.

Textbook rental fees will actually be lower for some students under the program, Robbins pointed out, because “consumable” items like workbooks no longer will be used.

Mt. Vernon would be the final school district in Hancock County to implement one-to-one computers, but not every school has computers at all grade levels. Southern Hancock was the first county district to fully integrate electronic learning from kindergarten through high school, using 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.

Robbins said that, while Mt. Vernon originally planned to phase in its laptop program, he’s confident about issuing laptops at all levels immediately.

“If you’re getting into a cold lake, if you walk in, step by step at a time, it’s kind of painful,” Robbins said. “If you jump into a cold lake, you get the shock over with, and you go forward.”

Robbins said he met with teachers about the idea late last month.

“I had a pretty strong feeling from the elementaries of excitement,” he said. “The middle school seemed excited as well. I got a feeling from the high school that, ‘You’re going to have to prove to me that this will work.’”

Robbins also considered professional development for teachers and said, for the most part, he hopes peers can coach each other. He will soon pitch a delayed start schedule for teachers to learn one day a week.

The school board also will consider hiring a curriculum director to work as a liaison with technology-based teaching. The board already has approved the position of a curriculum director; the candidate will be considered Monday.

Mike Horton, assistant superintendent for the school corporation, said he’s confident in the new superintendent’s leadership in the project since Robbins has worked with laptops previously. He said the program will work if teachers are given the resources to teach with laptops.

“Giving a machine to a child doesn’t transform the classroom,” Horton said. “Unfortunately, too many people think, ‘Now the kid has it, I’m a one-to-one school.’ You’ve put the tool in the toolbox, but you haven’t taught them how to work it.”

Robbins has been answering teacher questions in recent weeks through an online form and acknowledges that, while there’s excitement, there’s also a fear of the unknown. He said he’s been working for the past month to ensure all the infrastructure is in place to make the program a success.

“Worst-case scenario, if we get ready to start school, and we think we’ve got gaps, we just continue doing what we’re doing, and we slowly infuse it,” Robbins said. “But if we have gaps closed, then we’re ready to go, we’re ready to implement. … I’ve been working over a month to make sure we have the foundation in place to make sure those glitches are fewer and further between.”

At a glance

The Mt. Vernon School Board on Monday will decide whether to sign off on a loan to purchase laptops for every teacher and student in the school corporation. Here’s a look at the plan, by the numbers:

$2.5 million: Cost of the initiative, including both the computers and infrastructure to support online learning.

4,100: Number of laptops to be purchased for students and staff: 2,300 will be Chromebooks for Grades 6-12; 1,800 will be iPads for Grades K-5.

$460,000: Amount spent each of the next three years on a lease for laptops, to be funded with property tax dollars from the corporation’s Capital Projects Fund. School officials anticipate a 1.4 percent interest rate on the $2.5 million loan.

$135: Each student’s textbook rental fee for the program. Students in Grades K-5 will see a flat $135 fee, while students in Grades 6-12 will pay $135 plus additional money based on the types of classes they’re taking.

If you go

Two opportunities are coming up for the public to learn more about Mt. Vernon’s one-to-one computer initiative.

The Mt. Vernon School Board will vote on a $2.5 million loan for the program at its meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the administrative office, 1776 W. State Road 234, Fortville.

An open town hall meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Fortville Elementary School’s cafeteria. A frequently-asked-questions section will be added to the corporation’s website Tuesday.