All students in Henry to receive laptops

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

The Henry County School System is taking an unprecedented step in utilizing technology to facilitate learning for students in all grades.

The Board of Education earlier this month approved an agreement that will put a computer in the hands of every student sometime during the 2017-2018 school year. The cost to serve some 42,000 students in this way has been tabulated at $36,727,000. All of the costs are being covered by the school system’s current SPLOST program.

“These learning devices are intended to fulfill our vision for personalized learning,” said Dr. Brian Blanton, assistant superintendent for technology services. “This is intended to support teachers and students in the learning process.”

A number of schools in the district are currently working in innovative ways to take advantage of the massive amount of content available online, Blanton said. “We don’t see the device being the thing that makes the differences in student learning. It’s one more resource to help them realize the instructional experience we value.”

Certain subjects that would now require the use of printed textbooks or maps and other materials in the library or media center will be enhanced by this opportunity.

“The information in those books may be irrelevant by the time they get down to the library to take a look at it,” said Blanton. “Teachers can direct their students to use their devices to access information in real time. This is very limited in the students’ current setting.”

The plan approved by the school board will provide students in grades 3-12 with Hewlett-Packard Chromebooks, while those in kindergarten through second grade will use Apple iPads.

SPLOST collections have not yet reached the level to foot the entire bill, according to district spokesman J.D. Hardin, but the school board will use bonds to fund it and pay them back with SPLOST revenues as is typically done by local governments for capital projects.

The total cost mentioned previously includes infrastructure work such as data center, wide area network and other equipment needs. Also included in this funding is the allocation of technicians across the district, drawn from the company contracted to provide the devices as well as the school system’s own technology services staff. A technician will be provided for every school building as the project moves toward completion, Blanton said.

The devices and the majority of the technician services will be provided by Virtucom, with additional support from Lexicon Technologies. Virtucom already has a great deal of experience working with school districts in the metro Atlanta area, according to Blanton.

Could a single sleek tablet eventually take the place of a stack of bulky textbooks for the average student?

“That is certainly possible,” Blanton acknowledged. “These will definitely be supplementing our textbooks and, over time, they could eventually replace textbooks. What they could never replace is a highly qualified teacher.”

As for the teachers, they will be trained specifically to facilitate the students’ use of the devices in the most efficient way. This should not require much time beyond that which is already allotted for professional development.

“We intend for it to be an important part of their professional development time,” said Blanton. “We are working with our partners in curriculum and instruction on that.”

Given the size of the school district, it is not practical for every student to find a device on his or her desk the first day of school. But they will be rolled out as quickly as possible, beginning in early fall.

“We expect every student to have a device by the end of the school year,” said Blanton. “Most of those we hope to be rolled out in the fall.”