A Small District Acting Big on Tech Use

The multiyear process of launching a one-to-one initiative in a rural Indiana district

By James S. Roberts/School Administrator, May 2015

Roberts2

Community members in Batesville, Ind., had to be sold on the merits of one-to-one computing by students such as those in the high school’s dual-credit calculus course. (Photo courtesy of Batesville High School Video Production Class)

It can be a daunting task for small, rural school districts to implement a one-to-one computing program. How can this multimillion dollar effort fit into an already tight budget? How do you persuade board of education members, the community and the staff that a technology device in the hands of each student will enrich classroom instruction and lead to higher achievement?

    Those were some of the fundamental questions considered by the 2,100-student Batesville Community School Corporation as we began drafting a plan for a one-to-one initiative.

    Batesville, a rural, farming community in southeastern Indiana, about an hour from Indianapolis, thinks big on a small budget. Our general operating budget for the 2014-15 school year is approximately $13 million. We receive about $5,200 in per-pupil funding from the state, approximately $400 less than our neighboring school districts in southern Indiana.

    Considering the academic success of our students and efforts to remain competitive with other school systems in Indiana, we knew a one-to-one computing initiative was a natural next step. In 2010, we began our research and planning. How could we make it work without a fee increase for parents or a major hit to the school district’s budget?

    Five years later, every student in every grade in our four schools has a personal technology device. MacBook Air laptops are used at our high and middle schools; iPads at the intermediate and primary schools. Training and site-based support are available to teachers. There are no extra fees charged to parents and little additional stress to our budget.

    Batesville is proof that rural school districts can offer students a top-notch technology program through collaboration and strategic planning. Our approach integrated five key areas to ensure success.

Embrace a culture of technology.

We anticipated the community would have concerns about one-to-one computing because of the financial commitment and its likely impact on classroom instruction. We included representatives from key groups — parents, administrators, teachers and students — in the planning and implementation phases.

    It was important for parents, staff and community members to understand these two points about our technology efforts: (1) One-to-one computing will provide more learning opportunities for students, preparing them for the 21st-century workforce; (2) The district will create a technology plan that will be cost effective, thoroughly researched and phased in over multiple years.

    We hosted parent meetings to provide updates and answer questions. Frequent updates were provided at each building-level staff meeting. We also used social media, the school district website and local media for ongoing communication.

Create a vision and communication plan.

One-to-one computing could not begin without a plan. In 2010, with support of staff, parents and the school board, we created our “2020 Vision,” which redesigns the curriculum to leverage technology in the hands of students. We created a four-year timeline that started in 2011 with network expansion and staff training.

    In 2012, we began the first phase of distributing devices to students. High school students were first, followed by middle school in 2013 and primary and intermediate in 2014.

    Phasing in the devices each year helped us determine any gaps in the program. We learned early that parent communication is essential once students receive their device. Parents and students have a clear understanding of school district policy regarding usage of the device and consequences for misuse. Internet filters are in place.

    During the initial phase, we offered parents the option to purchase insurance for their device. To date, nearly 50 percent of students in our primary and intermediate schools have an insured device.

Roberts1
One-to-one computing begins for pupils in kindergarten in Batesville, Ind.’s small, rural school system. (Photo by Bonnie Johnston of Batesville Primary School)
Get creative with funding.

Not surprisingly, financing one-to-one computing proved to be our biggest challenge. Our original research suggested it would cost approximately $600,000 annually for devices, which would be nearly $300 per student. We were committed to keeping costs low for parents, so we opted for an approach that would transition textbooks to technology.

    We knew traditional textbooks would be phased out once one-to-one computing was put in place. Instead of paying the annual fee for textbook rental, parents would provide the same amount each year to rent a device. The high school fee and middle school fee is $160, the intermediate school fee is $95, and primary students pay $75 a year. We were able to keep our rental fees similar to years past thanks to private donations from the Batesville Community Education Foundation, which agreed to support the initiative for three years.

    After deducting the rental fees collected from parents and the money received from the foundation, the remainder of our dollars came from the district’s capital projects fund. This fund is supported by local taxpayers and allows for computer-related expenditures under Indiana regulations.

    Also critical at this point was infrastructure. Education Network of America was an invaluable resource in helping us expand our bandwidth and infrastructure at minimal cost. E-rate discounts enabled us to attain most items on our infrastructure wish list at cost.

    We also took a different approach to staffing the program. High school students are trained each summer to assist the district’s technology staff at the help desk. These students enroll in an independent study course titled Preparing for College and Career Readiness — AppleCare.     They volunteer during their class time three days a week at the help desk at the high school and assist in other buildings.

    Instead of hiring new staff for curriculum technology support, we selected a group of teachers already employed in Batesville to be instructional technology specialists. These specialists, housed in the libraries at each of our four buildings, are the point of contact for teachers on best practices for integrating technology applications into the curriculum. The specialists received training on Apple devices in addition to ongoing professional development.

 Involve staff and train staff.

This process began early. Representatives from each building were involved in planning, which included visiting other school systems nationwide, including Mooresville, N.C., to research best practices. Teachers also participated in numerous district-based training opportunities to understand Apple devices and their technology applications.

    Professional development remains a priority. In 2013, the school district received grants from the Indiana Department  of Education and Lightspeed Systems Foundation to support ongoing technology training and the development of digital content.

    The training is paying off. Technology is used as an effective tool in the classroom as teachers become more comfortable with the instructional options of their device. A high school English teacher introduced iWeb to students in her mythology course. Now each student is creating a website based on his or her research about gods and goddesses.

    Using their devices, students in our middle school completed a WebQuest, in which they became delegates to the Second Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence. With each student in possession of an iPad, one teacher at the intermediate school includes more research-based learning. For example, a student one day brought in a food item from the woods. Students used their device to research the unfamiliar item and discovered it was a pawpaw fruit. This kind of research could not have happened at such a fast pace if iPads were not in the classroom.

Expand technology use in the field.

One-to-one computing means more than providing a personal device to each student. The technology can be used to spark other initiatives to diversify our curriculum. In the Batesville schools, we are on that path. Our high school this year offered its first class for students who want to learn computer programming. Students download software to their personal device and work at their own pace and skill level.

    Also, we are researching e-learning as an alternative to makeup days when school is canceled due to winter weather. Each student may have a device, but we need an effective plan to guarantee adequate, continuous learning on those days.

    It’s often perceived that rural school districts are slow to catch on to national education trends, primarily because of budget constraints. While small districts do face financial obstacles to major initiatives, one-to-one computing is not an impossibility. With strong community and staff support, creative thinking and comprehensive research, you can create a cost-effective program tailored to the needs of your students.

  

Jim Roberts is superintendent of Batesville Community School Corporation in Batesville, Ind. E-mail: jroberts@batesville.k12.in.us. Twitter: @jsroberts_bcsc