By Kathy Day
Rancho Santa Fe School District trustees on June 7 heard about the state of their budget and enrollment for the coming school year and then signed off on a plan to purchase iPads, new desktop computers and accessories that will cost the district more than $377,000.
Although the district, like others throughout the state, still faces uncertainties about the final numbers, Superintendent Lindy Delaney said, “It’s a blessing that the expenses for technology, which are a serious expansion, will come out of state money and bond funds.”
Because of that, she added, the district can still maintain a healthy reserve despite an anticipated decline in property tax income and not knowing how potential ballot measures will alter state funding formulas. Two competing measures are likely to make the ballot, although the qualifying deadline is not until June 28.
Assistant Superintendent Cindy Schaub, who worked with technology director Ben Holbert on the proposal, presented an overview of how the district plans to implement the new technology program that will enable every middle-school student to have an iPad and will put six iPads in each K-6 classroom, as well as 10 for special education students. The expenditures also cover accessories and updated iMacs for K-6 classrooms, where they are applying a “thirds” plan – at any given time one-third of the students can be on iPads, one third on desktops and one third working in small groups or individual assignments.
The iPads aren’t intended to be “babysitters,” Schaub said, but rather a way to increase student engagement and achievement, provide new opportunities for inquiry and collaboration along with immediate learning and access to content.
Other outcomes she said they hope to achieve include new ways to demonstrate knowledge, provide differentiated learning experiences, reduce paper and pencil tasks, automate “skill-based learning” and prepare students for high school and beyond.
Teachers will each get their own iPad and all of the tablets will come with a learning management system that can be used for lessons, tracking progress and keeping parents and students apprised of information they need to know via e-mail, text or even Facebook or Twitter.
How and which “apps” to be purchased will be discussed in the coming months, Schaub said.
And there will be extensive staff training as well as informational sessions for parents on how to use the new devices. In addition, the district will add a tab on the website with additional information, including the presentation Schaub gave last week.
“Our teachers are getting excited,” Schaub said, noting they are overcoming initial “hesitations. It comes out of wanting to be the best.”
Before final approval of the expenditure, board trustee Tyler Seltzer, whose wife is a teacher, said, “I’m confident for the good teachers, it will just make them better. As an enhancement to what they are doing, it’s great.”
He added that with a better financial picture than a year ago, “it seems like the logical time to do it.”
Heather Slosar, mother of three students currently enrolled and two younger children, speaking during the public comment period raised the issue of the elementary school’s rankings, which she said have dropped somewhat from 2006-2011. She asked trustees, “Are we spending wisely and with a plan to improve test scores.”
Following the meeting, she said her concerns extended to the money being spent on the new technology.
“There is no data to support technology increases test scores,” she said. “It’s important (to have technology) but it’s also important to look at what the top 10 schools are doing.”