TPSD students, teachers will receive laptops

TUPELO – Goodbye, textbooks. Hello, computers.
All sixth- to 12th-grade students in the Tupelo Public School District, as well as all teachers and administrators in the district, will receive Apple laptops by the beginning of next school year, the district announced Tuesday.
The announcement came during a ceremony at the BancorpSouth Arena that included all TPSD students and teachers from grades three to 12.
The band played, the cheerleaders performed, and Superintendent Randy Shaver laid out his plan to turn Tupelo’s classrooms into 21st-century digital learning environments.
“I think Tupelo is unique and special and will always be on the cutting edge,” Shaver said. “We are going to put our education on the cutting edge by being transformational leaders in Tupelo, in Mississippi, in the U.S. and in the world.”
The MacBook computers will be loaned to administrators, teachers and students, who will be allowed to take the computers home just as they do currently do with textbooks.
The students will have to return their computer at the end of a school year and get that same computer back at the beginning of the next year. The computers will be returned upon the student’s graduation.
“Using the technology will broaden our ability to teach,” said Marrion Winders, a science teacher at Milam Elementary. “Being able to interact with others around the world will help the students make real-life connections.”
The project will be largely paid for by money the district normally spends on textbooks and photocopies, Shaver said, and policies are being considered to deal with vandalism and misuse.
The distribution will come in phases, with teachers and administrators getting their laptops before the end of the semester so they can plan how to use them for instruction.
Seniors at Tupelo High School also will get the computers when the teachers do.
In phase two, all sixth- to 12th-grade students will receive a laptop at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year.
Phases three and four include purchasing computer carts with laptops for use in kindergarten to fifth-grade classrooms and buying other technology, like Promethium Boards or SMART Boards that allow for student interaction in classrooms.
The district is estimating it will provide nearly 5,000 computers between students in grades six to 12, teachers and administrators. Also, the district’s nine kindergarten to fifth-grade schools will each get four carts of 20 computers.
The computers come with a new emphasis on using the classroom as a digital learning environment. Shaver emphasized replacing old classroom models where students sit in rows and memorize material for state tests.
For instance, students in a history class doing a project on Pocahontas might be instructed to use the Internet to do their own research on the project and to then show their mastery of the material by creating an iMovie about it.
“We are teaching collaboration and creativity and those are two of the most important skills business leaders want our students to master,” Shaver said.
The news fell on receptive ears in the crowd.
“I think it is definitely time for us to step into new technology,” said Tupelo High School sophomore Austin Kinsey.
More than 2,000 school districts across the world have one-to-one computer initiatives with Apple, including Shaver’s former district in Whiteville, N.C., but Tupelo is the first in Mississippi.
Tuesday’s announcement included a video in which students and educators from places around the world – from Pratt, Kan., to Fergus, Canada, and from Kobe, Japan to Lisbon, Portugal – all congratulated Tupelo on its one-to-one computer initiative.
“A lot of kids in high school and below have an opportunity to have a computer and that gives them a leg up,” said TPSD School Board member John Nail. “To give every kid that opportunity just explodes their potential.”
The total cost to the district will be roughly $5.2 million over four years, Shaver said. Under the lease-to-purchase agreement, the district will pay Apple a four-year lease and will then purchase all of the equipment for $1 total.
The total cost also includes staff development work helping teachers find ways to best use the equipment.
The district will find the money by cutting back on textbook and copying costs. Instead of providing textbooks for each of its students, the district will soon have just one set of textbooks for each subject and classroom.
Teachers who use handouts will turn them into electronic documents, or PDFs, and e-mail them to students.
Shaver said that because the district is buying the computers in bulk, they will cost roughly $900 per student.
The money for the first phase will come from a roughly $1.5 million bond that the district has already borrowed.
Shaver said the district chose to use Apple computers because he feels those machines and software best lend themselves to student creativity.

Click the view slideshow link above for pictures from the event.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal