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Posted: 04/17/13

RCS testing new chapter
in education through tech

by CHRIS GRAY
Observer Staff Writer
      Science teacher Jennifer Raicevich asked her students at Romeo Middle School to open their textbooks to the latest chapter, but her sixth-grade class didn't crack open heavy books.
       Instead, they powered up Chromebook laptops and logged into a textbook's website to tackle an assignment about volcanoes, complete with vocabulary, images and videos.
       This could be the scene in every classroom at Romeo Community Schools for the upcoming school year as the district prepares to install infrastructure and tests the latest gadgets to roll out its technology bond.
       Following the April 9 meeting of the Education Technology Leadership Team, Superintendent Nancy Campbell said installing infrastructure for the district's new network is considered a key component at this point in time.
       "That is number one, we can't do anything until then," Campbell said.
       The district has bid out the work for installing the networks, which will allow students and staff to wirelessly connect to the Internet. Campbell said 18 different vendors expressed interest in the work on April 4.
       "Typically it's only a handful of vendors," she said. "I think it shows that Romeo is an attractive place to work."
       Executive Director of Technology Mark Nelson said the district's wired network will be completely replaced, while a new wireless network will be installed to create 600 access points throughout the district.
       "We'll have to do something with the electrical upgrades," he said. "The money is built into the budget, but it depends on what we find as we do installations for the cost."
       Administrators said infrastructure will cost anywhere from $1.5 to $5 million depending on what electrical upgrades are required. The bids will be opened on April 18 and a recommendation will be presented to the Board of Education on May 6.
       The new networks will be installed during the summer break beginning June 18 and are expected to be completed by Aug. 15.
       The $16.4 million collected by the voter-approved technology bond will pay for the infrastructure, classroom technology and electrical upgrades.
       Testing the tech
       Nelson said the technology committee is still determining what personal learning device the district will purchase for every student to use. So far the district is running pilot programs for devices like iPads and Chromebooks, and is ordering Android and Windows 8 tablets for testing.
       A "scorecard" was created to rate the devices on facets like battery life, memory, security and start-up time.
       "What we're trying to do is look at some of the different options for these wireless devices," Nelson said. "Instead of trying to have all the answers, we can learn from the actual usage."
       Raicevich has tested the Chromebooks in her classroom since mid-March. She said aside from dealing with technical difficulties, she is able to easily give assignments through e-mail or websites.
       "It's an advantage if it's done with structure and if it has meaning," she said. "As long as (assignments) are structured, I think it's very advantageous and the kids really do like using them."
       Since it's a pilot program the students turn in the Chromebooks at the end of each class. Raicevich said this cuts into class time to distribute and collect them, but can see the advantage of one-to-one implementation.
       "I think once every student has their own device there won't be that transition time," Raicevich said.
       She added that the class still uses actual textbooks, especially when technical problems arise.
       The goal is to have devices into the hands of students by the beginning of the 2013-14 school year. The technology team is still determining how the district will roll out the 5,500-plus devices.
       Nelson said administrators and teachers are talking with other school districts like Marysville and Fraser that have implemented similar technology roll outs.
       The next technology team meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, May 13, at the Romeo Engineering and Technology Center.
       Voters passed the technology bond on Nov. 6 with 50.5 percent voting "yes" and 49.5 percent voting "no."


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