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District 65 is entering the second year of a three-year technology plan, which calls for infrastructure improvements to establish a portal for wi-fi access in every classroom, the replacement of many laptop computers with either Chromebooks or iPads for instructional purposes, and many other updates and improvements.

On June 23, the District 65 School Board approved, among other things, the purchase of 1,040 Chromebooks to outfit Haven and Nichols middle schools and King Arts Magnet School (Grades K-4). The Board also accepted an offer made by Digital Promise to implement a 1:1 iPad initiative at Chute Middle School and King Arts (grades 5-8). See sidebars.

In the following year (2015-16), administrators plan to outfit the elementary schools with Chromebooks. Each school, however, will have access to either iPads or MacBooks for instructional purposes, Patty Tzortzis, coordinator of instructional technology at District 65, told the RoundTable.

By the end of the 2015-16 school year, the District will have approximately one computer for every two students, said Joe Caravello, manager of technology services for District 65.

Chromebooks, iPads or Both

Historically the District has used MacBook laptops, many of which are now eight years old, in the classrooms. In April 2013, the Board decided to replace them with either iPads or Chromebooks because they cost about one-third the amount of MacBooks. In addition, iPads and Chromebooks can boot up in seconds, while the MacBooks were taking five minutes or longer to boot up, which ate into instructional time, said Mr. Caravello.

The School Board established pilots to assess whether iPads or Chromebooks would be a better fit for the District. Last year, 2013-14, the iPad pilot was rolled forward in the second grades of the Title I schools (Dawes, Oakton, Walker, Washington and King Arts) and in all sixth- and seventh-grade science classrooms. About 1,000 iPads are in use for this pilot.

The Chromebook pilot was implemented with 580 Chromebooks at Bessie Rhodes and Chute Middle School. The Chromebooks have Google Apps for Education, which includes many of the functions available on Microsoft Office, and they also have the Hapara Teacher Dashboard. The Hapara program enables a teacher to collaborate with all students in his or her class, said Mr. Caravello. Teachers can also see what their students are doing on their computers and see if they are staying on task. If not, the teacher can close a web page that a student is browsing.

“We used the Chromebooks at Bessie Rhodes and Chute and it’s worked out great,” Mr. Caravello told the RoundTable in a recent interview. In April of this year, the plan was to buy 1,550 more Chromebooks and deploy them in the rest of the rest of the middle schools, Haven, Nichols and King Arts.

In early June, though, a gift was thrown into the mix. Digital Promise offered to implement a 1:1 iPad initiative at Chute and at King Arts (grades 5-8). The offer included providing a secured/filtered cellular data plan for each iPad for Internet access away from school.

The Board accepted Digital Promise’s offer on June 23. As a result, the District was able to reduce the number of Chromebooks purchased to outfit the remaining middle schools and to use the savings to purchase 460 Chrombase computers to replace old MacBook laptops in each classroom, said Mr. Caravello.

As a result, in 2014-15 all middle-school grade levels will have access to either iPads or Chromebooks. In the following year (2015-16), administrators plan to outfit the elementary schools with Chromebooks. While the weighting appears to be toward Chromebooks, Ms. Tzortzis said, no school will have only one device.

When asked whether Chromebooks or iPads were better for instructional purposes, Ms. Tzortzis said, “It’s not a question which is better. Both are really great. We’re trying to get the best technology for kids. That may be through a multiple platform.” She added, “Other school districts are using multiple platforms.”

In addition to Chromebooks, Ms. Tzortzis said, iPads or MacBooks will be available in each school, equipped with software that currently provides advantages in teaching media arts, science and geometry and instructing students with a disability.

From an infrastructure standpoint, Mr. Caravello said, “There’s nothing wrong with that. We can manage multiple platforms.”

Ms. Tzortzis and Mr. Caravello listed some advantages for purchasing Chromebooks rather than iPads in the next few years: Google Apps for Education is available on Chromebooks; they have a built-in keypad, which is necessary for students to take the new State assessments; they have a longer expected life-span; and students will be using Chromebooks at Evanston Township High School.

“It’s just an easy transition for students once they go to the high school and they have their own Chromebook,” said Mr. Caravello. “They will already know the Apps, they will already know the Chromebook.”

Mr. Caravello also said Chromebooks allow controlled email. “Students don’t have email right now, but that’s one of the things that we want to do next year is having kids have Gmail access because it’s free to us and they can collaborate with the teachers. We can control it [the Gmail]. It can only be internal so it can only go to District 65.net. The kids cannot email somebody else in a different domain.”

Technology Purchases in 2014-15

On June 23, the District 65 School Board approved a lease to finance the purchase of approximately $1.6 million in technology equipment for the 2014-15 school year, including: 1,040 Chromebooks ($416,000), 460 Chromebase computers (replacing end-of-life classroom iMacs, $184,000), 197 iMacs to replace computers in media arts labs ($257,000), Epsons with interactive boards to replace 3M projectors ($236,850), replacement document cameras ($32,435), and infrastructure, including centralizing servers and updating the network ($418,000).

The lease payments will be made over four years, so the lease payment for each year will be $394,000.

The District is also budgeting to spend to spend $340,000 out of its Debt Service Extension base for rewiring Orrington School, computer supplies and repairs, annual licensing fees, consulting services and a network engineer (0.5 of salary).

When the payments due on existing technology leases are factored in, the capital cost for technology will be approximately $1.7 million for the 2014-15 school year.Digital Promise 1:1 iPad Initiative

On June 23, the District 65 School Board approved partnering with Digital Promise in a 1:1 iPad initiative at Chute Middle School and at the fifth- through eighth-grade levels at King Arts Magnet School. Digital Promise is a non-profit organization authorized by Congress. Its mission is to improve all Americans’ opportunity to learn through technology and research.

District 65 is one of only four school districts in the country that Digital Promise has selected to partner with, said Joe Caravello, manager of technology services at District 65.

Under the iPad initiative, Digital Promise will provide an iPad for each student and teacher in the project and also provide, for two years, a secured/filtered cellular data plan for each iPad for internet access away from school. In addition Digital Promise will provide $25,000 for a full-time coach at each school and professional development for all teachers.

Chute principal Jim McHolland said the offer came through a contact of his. He said the proposal would give kids from low-income households “”an equal playing field”” by providing them with an iPad and internet access when they go home.

Mr. McHolland also said the proposal was presented to teachers at the two schools and there was “”100% buy-in.”” He said parents would be required to listen to a short video as part of the package.

Mr. McHolland said a “”storyteller”” would document the process, and Verizon may use the storyteller’s work as part of a national campaign and possibly in commercials.

The District will incur expenses totaling an estimated $147,500 for coaches, keyboards and internet filtering during the two-year partnership. The value of the package offered by Digital Promise is estimated at $1.3 million. District 65 will be able to keep the iPads at the end of the two years.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...