Across Idaho, schools plan for technology upgrades

By Jessie L. Bonner

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Jan. 15 2012 3:10 p.m. MST

HOLD FOR STORY MOVING JAN. 15 Inb this photo taken Jan. 13, 2012, Jennifer Miller teaches a first-grade reading class at Sherman Elementary School in Nampa, Idaho. The Nampa School District plans to use money lawmakers set aside last year for classroom technology upgrades to buy new computers for students in first through fifth grades.

Jessie L. Bonner, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

BOISE, Idaho — Students may not have to wait for Idaho to roll out a statewide laptop program before they get their hands on a new computer.

Districts across the state are taking advantage of the $13 million lawmakers set aside in 2011 for technology upgrades in the classroom to purchase devices for students that include iPads, laptops, and desktop computers.

Idaho will eventually phase in laptops for every high school teacher and student while making online courses a requirement to graduate, under a plan that was crafted by public schools chief Tom Luna and signed into law last year.

But the $13 million included in this year's public schools budget is not part of the statewide laptop program. The funding is being sent to schools this year to help pay for things like Internet access, technology hardware and teacher training in preparation for the changes.

Many districts are, however, opting to spend the money on various types of computers for students in kindergarten through eighth grades, with hopes of better preparing them for the classrooms that await them once they enter high school.

A portion of the $13 million, about $4 million, has already been distributed to public schools this year. Districts submitted plans earlier this month to the state Department of Education detailing how they would spend the remaining $9 million.

In Craigmont, a former railroad town of about 500 in northern Idaho, the Highland School District plans to spend $5,500 to equip classrooms in kindergarten through fifth grade with iPads. The district plans to eventually transition students into using laptops once they advance onto middle school so they'll be comfortable with the devices later on in high school, where they'll need to complete at least two courses online to graduate.

The district has about 180 students in kindergarten through 12th grades in one school building, said Superintendent Cindy Orr.

"It's easier for us to do it this way, where everyone in the building gets one versus having to wait until they're in the ninth grade," Orr said.

Further to the north in Priest River, district administrators plan to give students in all grades access to digital cameras so they can incorporate photos into their school work. The district also wants to use iPods in elementary school classrooms to help improve student language, art and math skills while also experimenting with the use computer tablets in teaching children who struggle with learning disabilities.

At the Vallivue School District in southwestern Idaho, administrators plan to finish phasing in interactive smart boards in kindergarten through eighth grades, with projectors to display the materials. The district also hopes to eventually buy iPads for every elementary and middle school.

In southwestern Idaho, the Nampa School District plans to equip every elementary school classroom new desktop computers and projectors in kindergarten through fifth grades while spending its $450,000 share of the remaining technology funding from the state.

Nampa schools have been forced to restrict spending on technology in recent years because of budget cuts, said spokeswoman Allison Westfall.

"This won't meet all of our needs, but it will help," Westfall said.

Idaho will start to introduce the statewide laptop program this fall, with computers for every high school teacher.

The state was expected to start phasing in the computers for students in the fall of 2013, starting with every 9th grade classroom, but a statewide task force created to help implement Luna's changes has recommended a different route.

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