MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

July 28, 2013

7th- to 12th- grade students to receive laptops this year

By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Students in Muskogee will be using laptops for all their schoolwork much sooner than officials first anticipated.

Muskogee Public School Board members voted to contract with Pearson Education Inc. to implement its One-to-One Initiative to get laptops in the hands of all seventh- through 12th-grade students.

The contract will cover the transition to digital curriculum, including technology upgrades, teacher training, ongoing support, digital textbooks and more, Pearson representatives said at a recent special board meeting.

Initially, the district expected to spend at least the next school year getting prepared and trained, then roll out laptops for ninth- through 12th-graders by fall 2014, said Superintendent Mike Garde. The middle school students would have gotten them in 2015.

“But with Pearson’s support that lengthy delay isn’t necessary anymore,” Garde said. “So the goal now is implementing it district-wide, for seventh through 12th grade by January.”

The district’s One-to-One Initiative means all students in the seventh-grade and above will no longer use textbooks for learning, according to a district media release.

Instead, each student will have a laptop they use at school and at home to do their homework.

Chief Financial Officer John Little said the district will make a large, initial investment of about $14 million over five years.

The $14 million is 99 percent funded by the recent school bond issue voters passed in May, he said.

Some of the funding for staff development will come from grants, Little said.

Five years from now the cost of maintaining the digital curriculum will likely cost less than the district spends on textbooks now, he said. Plus, the cost to use paper will be greatly reduced.

“Textbooks normally cost us $75 to $100 per student,” Little said. “All of the digital textbooks are $15 each.”

Additionally, the district will save on paper cost, he said, as students move from using paper and pencil to Internet and keyboard.

Among the concerns teachers had who attended a recent meeting were how substitute teachers would be able to step in and teach, what safeguards would be in place to protect against damage and loss of the laptops, and what will happen if the schools’ Internet service goes down for any period of time.

Judy Goldstein, partnership director for Pearson, and several school officials answered many of their questions and offered several options for each solution.

Goldstein said details aren’t set in stone, but Pearson representatives will be working closely with district officials in the next few days to get those ironed out.

“There are going to be bumps, but we can handle that,” she said. “The key is that you have a planning and project team that is here to provide timely solutions to any problems.”

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.