CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- Hamilton County School Board members got some upbeat news about student technology Friday morning, but not without some words of caution. A $1.4 million state grant will soon aid the district in providing infrastructure for computer system upgrades. At the same time, district officials are still grappling with how to fund personal device purchases and professional development for educators.
By July 1, 2014, every county school should have wireless capability and increased bandwidth to accommodate the increased use of computers and personal devices, including iPads. Superintendent Rick Smith said discussions are underway about a "bring your own device" policy, and how to incorporate it into a school system where about half of students do not have Internet access at home.
The school district is under the gun to have additional bandwidth at all schools by the 2014-15 school year, during which most state testing will be conducted online. Officials say there has been talk of optional "pencil and paper" tests for districts which fail to meet the deadline, but nothing official has been set.
Supt. Smith praised the Public Education Foundation and Benwood Foundation for their 1:1 initiative, which aims to provide personal technology devices for six schools, which comprise two "feeder areas." Red Bank Elementary, Middle and High, along with Calvin Donaldson Elementary, East Lake (Middle) Academy and Howard High students will soon benefit from the program.
He also said the Rotary Club of Chattanooga has made a commitment to provide the devices for fourth graders at two elementary "I-Zone" schools, Woodmore and Orchard Knob. "We want to go slow at the outset," Smith said. "Some school districts have jumped in headfirst, and have made mistakes along the way. We want to make sure our teachers are trained, that we have staff in place for installation and repairs, and then we can adjust if needed."
Still, he added that Hamilton County can't drag its feet when entering the "iPad era." He said, "We don't really have a choice. Put it off, and you'll be behind."
Christie Jordan, director of accounting and budgeting said, "We have used our limited funds wisely, and with the help of this state grant, we are about to blossom. But we will also have to cover some new expenses from the general budget, and these are costs we've never had before."
Smith said that EPB and Comcast have been generous in supporting the program, and helping provide access for a number of students. "But there are a lot of expenses involved in this that people don't see, the infrastructure behind the scenes, and the training involved. This community will have to step up and see how important this is."
Patty Kinsey, the district's director of information technology, said that school officials plan to tour Forsyth County, GA schools in November. That school district has been identified as a model district in its adoption and execution of personal devices for classroom use.
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