By Jon Tatting—
Rush City schools is taking a big step into the world of technology with an initiative that starts with putting iPads into the hands of fifth graders and their teachers next school year.
Mary Kurvers, the district’s technology specialist, along with fifth-grade teachers Sue Williams, Lori Nelson and Kim Erdman, presented the “iPads in the Classroom” initiative to the school board on May 17. Though no action was taken that night, the board approved the plan at a special meeting on May 24. Solely voting against was Board Member Stefanie Folkema.
The board’s approval means next year’s fifth graders and their teachers will be working on iPad tablets equipped with curriculum that otherwise would have been found in traditional textbooks. In fact, financing for the computing devices will in large part come from reallocating dollars typically spent on textbook purchases, since digital curriculum is becoming rapidly available and often times free or low cost, said Superintendent Vern Koepp.
The board’s decision also gives other teachers an opportunity at the iPads as long as they’re willing to commit to the ongoing training involved and explore how they would integrate the technology as an instructional tool in their classroom.
Entering the digital world
Since the winter of 2006-07, the district has been seriously looking into major technological enhancements to enrich a student’s education experience. Teachers responded by requesting what’s been termed “SmartClassrooms,” equipped with SmartBoards, because of how the technology supports their learning goals for students.
“Just as the world of technology is ever-changing, so is education,” Kurvers said. “Tablets (from iPads to the Kindle Fire) were not even on the horizon when the SmartClassroom initiative began. The individualization and motivation that tablets offer will help provide all students with the educational supports that are unavailable in a typical classroom.”
Kurvers said teachers have identified the iPad as the best fit for students because of its mobility, Internet and word processing capability, data storage capacity and user-friendliness.
Plus it’s reliable, an affordable option when compared to other available devices and can access applications (apps) beyond the Internet. That and iPads and Apple have developed the largest support program of mobile devices for education, Kurvers added.
Koepp clarified the initiative would affect curriculum and not teaching positions.
For 2012-13, the district will pilot a one-to-one initiative so one grade level of students (fifth grade) will receive iPads for every student in the grade. Teachers of that grade will receive the device, too, while individual teachers may request an iPad to enrich their current curriculum and instruction.
In 2013-14 and beyond, the district would continue each year to purchase devices for teachers and select grade levels to receive a device per student.
“We will continue to encourage teachers and students to bring their own computing devices to support the instruction already occurring in classrooms throughout our school,” said Kurvers.
The technology initiative also means an investment in staff development time for teachers. Training and sharing will be ongoing throughout the summer and school year.
“There also will be a group of teachers expanding their instruction with daily access to an iPad,” Kurvers noted. “While not all of their students will have an iPad, the teachers will be able to use an iPad in their instruction and share that access with their students.”
Parents will be kept in the loop, too, as they and students will be introduced to the program at an informational meeting prior to the start of the school year.
Lunch prices increased
The board agreed to increase lunch prices by 10 cents at both schools for 2012-13 to meet USDA regulations. This means lunch prices will be $2.10 at the elementary school and $2.25 at the high school.
Due to the Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, said Food Service Director Donna Westman, school food authorities participating in the National School Lunch Program must ensure sufficient funds are provided to the nonprofit school food service account for meals served to students not eligible for free or reduced price meals.
SCRED facility financing
At a special meeting held earlier this month, board members agreed to hold the lease in financing the proposed St. Croix River Education District office facility.
The board reviewed a summary of information explaining why lenders were not interested in the building project. According to the district’s financial consultant, the lease would be non-bank qualified due to a member district of SCRED refinancing more than $10 million this year.
The borrower also considered the size of the lease too large compared to SCRED’s financial reports and annual operations.
On May 24, the board accepted the bid for the financing of the project, with an interest rate about half of what had been originally estimated, said Superintendent Koepp.
The board’s decision means no additional tax burden or expense to district residents, as SCRED will make regular lease payments to Rush City schools.
In other news, the board:
• Approved a permanent utility and drainage easement with Chisago County that will widen the school entrance at Tiger Trail and Fairfield Avenue.
• Agreed with Board Member Brian Anderson who credited bus drivers for getting students to their destinations on time despite the route changes associated with construction on 4th Street.
• Approved the district’s Minnesota District Local Literacy Plan, which outlines efforts to ensure all students become proficient readers.
• Learned the March 31 fund balance of the Pool Trust Fund had a fund balance of $512,580 on March 31. Supt. Koepp reviewed the quarterly report, adding the interest income earned for the 2011 aquatic center season was $2,965 compared to $8,116 the year before.
• Learned that general fund revenues are running about $650,000 less than expenditures when reviewing the 2011-12 budget. Koepp noted this is mainly due to delays in state aid.