"If we don't have them comfortable and the apps in place - even if the infrastructure is in place - then these devices become very nice paperweights."
- Board of Education member Jonathan Welch
Hamilton County Board of Education members hope to streamline the process of upgrading the district's lagging technological infrastructure to maximize purchasing power and ensure security and equality across all 80 schools.
The board's newly appointed technology committee met Friday afternoon, kickstarting a likely years-long process of putting iPads into the hands of all 42,000 students. Early estimates put the cost of the iPads close to $18 million, with another $1 million needed to improve the district's bandwidth infrastructure. The move is meant to improve instruction and prepare students better for the modern world.
But the move to iPads also is designed to help meet a 2014 deadline, when all state exams will move from paper to an online format. The district currently doesn't have enough desktops, laptops and tablets to handle such a change easily.
Administrators are banking on groups like PTAs and foundations to help pay for the new iPad purchases. But schools and principals must be given some guidance on how to go about acquiring the devices, officials said. And whatever is purchased needs to meet central office's IT standards to ensure network and device security.
"We've got a lot of interest in schools and in communities. But we need to manage that," Superintendent Rick Smith said. "We have to understand we're a system. We just want to make sure it fits within the framework of Hamilton County."
Aside from ensuring systemwide compatibility, board members want to implement some safeguards against inequities. Because if PTAs and foundations are funding most of the purchases, many poorer schools could be left out.
"That creates disparity," board member Jeffrey Wilson said. "Some schools have and some schools don't."
The superintendent said he believes even private dollars can be funneled in a way that ensures equal access. For instance, he said the downtown Rotary Club is committed to helping give iPads to the district's five i-zone schools, some of the county's poorest and lowest-performing schools.
And if all the purchases are overseen in a central way, the district can maximize its purchasing power, getting lower prices on new devices and apps, said board member and technology committee chairman Jonathan Welch.
Still, no amount of streamlining or funding will help officials overcome a key challenge: how to train teachers well enough so that the new technology is integrated into their everyday instruction.
"If we don't have them comfortable and the apps in place -- even if the infrastructure is in place -- then these devices become very nice paperweights," Welch said.