HIBBING — Hibbing School Board directors are eager to see iPads in the hands of Hibbing students.
That was the consensus among directors at a January working session. While no action was taken, Superintendent Robert Belluzzo asked for board direction as administrators seek to formulate a technology plan.
Belluzzo and Technology Director Joel Anderson presented the costs of a tentative plan to bring a one-to-one iPad initiative to Lincoln Elementary School and Hibbing High School in the next few years.
The plan is spurred by the district’s Technology Visioning Committee, made up of teachers, board members, administrators, parents and community members.
The group, as well as focus groups, indicated that the district needs to implement iPads, Belluzzo said.
“They really didn’t go anywhere with recommendations other than iPads. That’s what it was a year ago. Frankly, that’s a recommendation I agree with,” he said. “Probably two years ago I didn’t agree with (that), but Apple has done things to enhance the use of iPads in the classroom, and I think that’s the right direction to go now.”
Administrators, teachers and board members have spent the last year attending conferences, studying trends and data, and visiting schools to see how others are using iPads in the classroom, Belluzzo said.
The iPad isn’t what is being taught with an iPad initiative — it’s the regular curriculum that’s being taught, but it’s enhanced through the use of the iPad.
Districts that have instituted iPad initiatives have seen improved test scores and individual student growth, he said.
One third grade class in the Hibbing district is already using iPads due to a grant from U.S. Steel.
A move to iPads at both schools is costly, Belluzzo said.
The cost of iPads is estimated at $500 per device. The estimate includes the cost of a case and applications.
At that cost estimate, the cost of almost 2,000 iPads for students in grades three through 12 would be almost $1 million.
But first the district would need to add Wi-Fi to its buildings. The cost to add Wi-Fi to all four district buildings is estimated at $650,000.
The cost is estimated to be $365,000 at the high school, $135,000 at the Lincoln Elementary, and $75,000 each for the Greenhaven and Washington schools.
“As of today there isn’t any pot of money besides district funds to rely on to make our district Wi-Fi accessible,” Belluzzo said.
Training would also be an additional expense.
“I think that we would have not only initial training of staff, but there’s going to have to be a significant amount of follow up training,” he said. “Even after the first year so teachers can implement and use iPads to their fullest extent.”
Insurance would also be a cost consideration.
Belluzzo suggested a three year implementation phase beginning at the Lincoln Elementary in year one, in seventh and eighth grade at the high school in year two, and in grades nine through 12 at the high school in year three. He also recommended a three year replacement cycle for the technology.
That would be a budgeted cost of about $350,000 a year, he said.
Director John Berklich reminded directors that the cost of state mandated principal and teacher evaluations is estimated at $650,000, and it is a cost the district is not currently paying.
“Just something to keep in mind as our overall budget criteria,” he said.
“There is not an extra amount anyplace that we can just add this to. We’ll try to get additional funding,” he said of implementing an iPad initiative. “Once we start down this path … then it becomes a priority for future spending.”
Business Manager Scott Wirtanen cautioned that the district currently has a balanced budget, and if it goes ahead with an iPad initiative $350,000 to $450,000 will need to be planned into the budget each year going forward for replacements.
If attempts to find funding for an iPad initiative aren’t successful, the initial cost will need to be taken out of district reserves, he added.
Belluzzo said that while there are several costs associated with iPads, the initiative would also result in some savings in expenditures for textbooks, printing supplies and computer lab upgrades.
“I’m reluctant to budget those savings at this time,” he added.
Director Mitch Vincent questioned whether the implementation schedule couldn’t be sped up.
Education is going this way fast. Three to four years seems too long, he said.
A two-year installation is the quickest it could be done because of the need to install Wi-Fi at both buildings, Belluzzo said.
Building’s and Grounds Manager Joe Arthurs agreed. Installing the Wi-Fi network is a process that requires time for bids and board approvals.
Projects are also more cost effective when they’re not rushed because contractors can afford to fit them into their construction schedules, he said.
Belluzzo said his understanding from the board was to move forward in developing a plan for beginning an iPad initiative at Lincoln School next year and at the high school the following year.
He will now go forward with putting together plans for purchasing, training and Wi-Fi installation to bring back to the board for approval at a future board meeting.
Belluzzo also sought direction from directors on whether to move forward with instillation of interactive white boards at Greenhaven and Washington. The boards, which allow teachers to project images from their computer before the entire class, are already installed in all classrooms at the high school and Lincoln Elementary School.
However, there are only a limited number of the boards in the two kindergarten through second grade buildings.
“The reviews that we’ve gotten from most teachers is that they are a very effective teaching tool, and I would like to see us expand that technology as soon as we can to both the Washington and Greenhaven,” Belluzzo said.
The cost to put the interactive white boards, audio enhancement systems and projectors in all 22 classrooms is about $121,000.
Following the technology discussion, the board postponed discussions on security and referendums until this Wednesday’s meeting when more board members would be present. Director David Cicmil was absent, and Vincent and Berklich left the meeting at different points in the discussion.
Motions regarding the interactive white boards at Washington and Greenhaven elementary schools and a Wi-Fi project and iPad initiative at Lincoln Elementary School are also on this week’s school board agenda.