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Still, observers wonder: Did St. Paul move too quickly and without the benefit of solid planning?
For about a year, the district has worked to improve its technology infrastructure, according to Katie Wilcox-Harris, assistant superintendent of personalized learning, and is now “absolutely confident” it can support the influx of the new devices.
Teachers are in the midst of completing nine hours of professional development training. At Washington Technology Magnet School, where 116 participants gathered last Monday, sessions ranged from beginner to advanced levels.
It’s expected that the iPads will be employed to varying degrees in the classrooms. But the point, according to proponents such as Anderson, is to have the devices in students’ hands so they can create and, hopefully, innovate.
Anderson, who likens the iPad to a pencil, warns of the danger of “overplanning” and limiting how far teachers and students can take it.
“As educators, we have the luxury of whether to use the tool or not,” he said. “But kids are not going to have the option of living in a world that doesn’t use technology.”
Worth the investment
The district, thanks to its technology levy, has the resources. In June, the school board approved a $5.72 million lease arrangement with Apple Inc. that will climb to about $8 million annually in 2015-16, when the iPad project is in full operation at 61 school sites.
The district has possession of 27,760 iPads and 1,385 MacBook laptops, with the bulk being stored for now in a warehouse with upgraded security. Students will begin receiving their iPads one school at a time during the third week of October.
For now, officials do not expect to charge families an upfront fee for use of the iPads. The district has a right to charge for missing or broken devices, but officials believe that by educating students and families about responsible use, and enforcing consequences (including reviews of iPad care and, for repeat offenders, an iPad Academy class), it can avoid charging for misuse.
The devices come courtesy of taxpayers, after all, and to hear Smith tell it, if they are handled right, they’ll be worth the investment.
“The iPads help all students have the confidence to learn,” she said.
Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036