2017-03-03 / Community News

Middle school is next pick to click refresh

Board of Education hears proposal for updated tech plan
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

A technology refresh is planned for Scarborough Middle School next school year. The board of education got a preview of the in mid-February, which will call for the purchase of 756 chromebooks for students, as well as the associated protection plans and equipment. This school year is the first in which each student has personal access to a computer. (File photo) A technology refresh is planned for Scarborough Middle School next school year. The board of education got a preview of the in mid-February, which will call for the purchase of 756 chromebooks for students, as well as the associated protection plans and equipment. This school year is the first in which each student has personal access to a computer. (File photo) Now in the second year of providing every student at the high school with laptops and undergoing a technology upgrade at the three primary schools, the town’s information services department is turning its attention to Scarborough Middle School.

The 2017-2018 school year marks four years since the middle school’s technology was refreshed.

Middle school students’ computers are provided by the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI), but the plan now is to purchase devices independent of the MLTI program, much like was done when the district purchased laptops for high school students last school year.

Jennifer Lim, the director of technology and information services, said 756 student devices would be needed and has budgeted $275 per device, plus the associated costs for protective sleeves, off-campus filtering licenses, spare equipment and keyboard covers.

The exact device has not been decided, but whatever brand is chosen must have a HDMI port, headphone jack, three or four USB ports, webcam, speakers, Bluetooth connectivity, a three- to four-hour battery life, as well as touchscreen capabilities. She is leaning toward Chromebooks.

“I feel confident the Chromebooks will work fine with them and they will like them,” Lim said.

The cost of the technology refresh at the middle school, Lim said in a presentation to the Scarborough Board of Education Feb. 16, would be $462,235 over the next four years, including $319,950 for the 2017-2018 school year, a touch higher than what the district spent over the last four years under the MLTI program ($455,205). Typically $500,000 is budgeted for a full tech refresh.

Lim said there may be a possibility of sixth-graders being able to take the devices home. Right now only students in grades 7 to 12 can do so.

“With the refresh it is an opportunity to look at the whole scope of things,” said Director of Curriculum and Assessment Monique Culbertson.

It was an idea that board chairman Kelly Murphy supported because next year’s sixth-graders have had personal laptops for the past several years and have learned to take proper care of the machines.

When the laptops were introduced to sixth-grade there was concern about students bringing them home because it was their first introduction to 1 to 1 technology.

Lim said at the end of this year, the department will purchase back the middle school’s 1,000 MLTI devices for $18 a piece. The devices will be wiped clean and some will be used at Wentworth to delay the need to purchase new devices at that school.

“To extend the life of Wentworth devices makes sense for us,” Lim said.

The rest will either be sold to other communities or the state. Lim said she already has school districts interested in the devices.

While the Information Systems department looks forward to the middle school technology refresh next school year, employees are wrapping up a technology improvement project at the primary schools, providing each student with an Asus Chromebook and outfitting each gymnasium with a projector system.

“It allows them to have a whole school assembly in one location, before that there were not one place they could all meet,” Lim said.

Prior to the Chromebooks, each school has a handful of laptops for students to share. Those computers were redeployed to the Wentworth technology and photography club.

This school year, the department also expanded Wi-Fi near the athletic fields, replaced the middle school network and began a disaster recovery and business continuity plan, work that will continue for next school year as well. Work next year will also include technology training and science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics support.

Lim said getting technology into the hand of each and everyone of Scarborough’s students has yielded positive results and made it easier to get work done – through Google Classroom students can access their schoolwork no matter where they are – and opened up a new world of learning opportunities.

School board vice chairman Jodi Shea said her daughter and a classmate were able to connect electronically and complete a school project recently without ever working on it together in person.

“What we are seeing is increased mobility,” Lim said, adding instead of “carrying around every textbook known to men” students can take their computer outside of school to do homework or projects at home or on the bus.

Lim said access to technology and computers has also helped students better understand the world around them.

“It’s helped with shrinking the world down and learning about other culture and other people,” Lim said.

Shea said as a parent, it is amazing to see how students are using the technology and implementing it in the schoolwork.

The Information Services department, and its responsibilities, has grown since Lim took over leadership five years ago.

During the 2011-2012 school year only students in seventh and eighth grade had individual laptops. Now every student in the district has a personal computer to work on in school, and with the older students, at home as well.

Back in 2011, Lim noted, the information systems department managed 3,110 school-related devices. In a mere five years, that number has grown to 5,956 devices, including laptops, projectors, Chromebooks, technology carts, desktops and printers. When you add in the municipal equipment, the department services and maintains more than 6,500 devices over 17 location ranging from computers to phones to printers and cameras. While the number of devices has increased, the department has also halved the number of desktop computers it take care of and reduced the printers from 261 in 2011 to 94 in 2017 by “strategically placing printers throughout the schools.”

“That’s been a huge cost savings at the end of the day,” Lim said.

The department has increased from five employees five years ago to eight employees today that take care of both municipal and school technology needs.

“That provides an enormous amount of cost efficiency for the town and for the schools,” Lim said.

The board didn’t have any issues with the middle school technology refresh or technology work the department has done this year, but board member Donna Beeley questioned whether the department had enough employees to keep up with all the town and school technology needs.

“I am always impressed by the enormous amount of work you and your staff do,” Beeley said.

Lim said she might request for additional staff in the future.

“I promised everyone when we went live with 1 to 1 at the high school, we wouldn’t ask for additional staff that first year. We are assessing it now,” Lim said.

Department heads are putting the final touches on their budgets. Lim is expected to appear before the town council finance committee to discuss the information systems budget, which could include a staffing increase request, on Thursday, April 13 from 6 p.m. to 6:30.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarbroughleader.com

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