Five-year rollout schedule to be reviewed yearly
By Richard Leitner, News Staff
Move over textbooks, the iPad is on its way to Hamilton public schools in a big way.
Trustees have unanimously approved a staff plan to spend nearly $18 million to put computer tablets in the hands of every student in grades 4 to 12 in the next five years.
Education director John Malloy said the board will pay for the iPads by reallocating some of the $19 million it spends each year on textbooks, photocopying and technology.
The tablets’ rollout will begin with a two-year pilot project this fall for all grades at Nora Frances Henderson Secondary School– formerly Barton – on the Mountain and grades 4 to 6 at seven elementary schools in the north end.
iPads will also be provided to Mountain and Parkview secondary students this fall, and to students in grades 7 and 8 at the north-end elementary schools at the beginning of next year.
Malloy said the project isn’t about technology, but rather allowing students to enhance their learning with online resources.
He said although that opportunity already exists for select students, it needs to be extended across the system to give everyone the same chance to succeed in a digital world.
“Our students live in this world now,” Malloy said. “The world of teacher in front of classroom, students in desks quietly responding to lessons, is not where we know we have to go,” he said.
“We basically believe that if we create these kinds of blended environments where instruction is enhanced by technology, then our students’ engagement and achievement will increase.”
Ward 3 trustee Tim Simmons said he’s excited to see the board moving beyond the “20th-Century industrial model” of learning.
He said his 10-year-old son is participating in an iPad pilot project and has shown marked improvement in math after always struggling with the subject.
“His math literacy has gone through the roof,” Simmons said. “It’s not that he can just get the answers right, he can explain it to me why it’s right and it blows my mind.”
West Mountain trustee Wes Hicks praised the plan but cautioned the money will come from an area trustees have had to cut in the past to avoid a budgetary deficit.
He said he understands “there’s a strong possibility” the Ministry of Education will reduce funding for textbooks as part of the upcoming provincial budget.
“If that’s the case, there would be another pressure on that,” Hicks said. “It’s a wonderful program, but I think we should always be aware of the finances and the pressures on the finances.”
Stacey Zucker, superintendent of business services, said staff will report on the progress of the iPad rollout each year prior to the crafting of the board’s annual budget.
She said the tablets’ cost represents about half of the per-pupil budget per year on textbooks, photocopying and technology for elementary students and one-quarter for secondary students.
“It’s just a repurposing of the amount,” she said.
Judith Bishop, trustee for wards 1 and 2, said it’s critical the rollout be reviewed yearly because it will come in “a period of huge change,” including high school closures and implementation of a new secondary program strategy.
She said although Quebec’s Eastern Townships School Board is held out as a successful example of similar ventures, it’s in a rural setting “with a very different population.”
“Only four of our high schools will not be under some large-scale change,” Bishop said. “We’ve all watched that with the elementary schools it takes at least two to three years before that school is sort of settled and got going,” she said.
“I think we want to make sure that we learn everything possible from the pilot (before proceeding).”
According to a staff schedule, tablets will be introduced for grades 4, 5 and 9 in 2016-17; grades 6 and 10 in 2017-18; grades 7 and 11 in 2018; and grades 8 and 12 in September 2019.
After that, the board projects the devices’ upkeep will cost $3.45 million per year.