Hazelwood board votes to expand laptop computer program – STLtoday.com

The Hazelwood Board of Education voted to spend $1.7 million in a four-year lease for new laptops for high school students on Tuesday night, just a few months after it faced ire for cuts made to address an impending multimillion-dollar deficit.

The board approved the second part of a three-phase plan to give each of its students — from kindergartners to high school seniors — a new Chromebook laptop.

District officials said they hope the plan will help Hazelwood compete with other school districts, as well as equip students with more advanced computer skills.

“A lot of students don’t have this thing at home, a lot of people don’t have this technology at home. By giving it to us, we’re able to go home and look at our scores and work towards it and advance it,” said Diamond Terry, a Hazelwood West senior and one of five students the district hired to help roll out the Chromebook plan.

Three community members spoke against the plan at Tuesday’s meeting, saying it’s not the right time to spend more than $1 million on new technology while the district is strapped for funds.

“They are not critical to my child’s education, teachers are,” said Sonya Thayer, referring to the Chromebooks. “Are you aware there are studies that show technology in the classroom does not improve education?”

The district has already obtained 10,000 Chromebooks on a three-year lease for third- through eighth-graders, as part of the plan’s first phase. The district expects to pay that lease off by the 2019-2020 school year.

This second phase will give Chromebooks to every high school student. The third phase, which the board has not yet voted on, will give a Chromebook to kindergartners and first- and second-graders.

The district already has nine-year-old Dell laptops for students, but they would cost $219 each to repair, Assistant Superintendent Bruce Green said. A new Chromebook costs $275 each and includes a warranty.

Officials also said those older laptops hold only a two-hour battery charge, and new batteries would cost more than $100 each. It would be more cost-efficient to invest in a new and better-quality Chromebook, Green said. District officials also argue it’s a bother for teachers to schedule time to use existing computer labs for projects and testing.

Elementary and middle school teachers are starting to integrate Chromebooks into lessons by having students use Google Apps for Education for projects. For example, some Twillman Elementary students used Google Slides, the equivalent of PowerPoint, to make biographies of famous African-Americans for Black History Month.

The plan is part of a partnership between Hazelwood and Google, Green said. He said Hazelwood will host St. Louis’ first Google Summit in September.

Green said his technology team needs to continue working with its curriculum department to integrate Chromebooks into lessons and train all district staff on using Google Apps for Education. The district also plans to offer monthly technology classes to parents, students and community members in the future.

Hazelwood has made cuts to address an expected $12.7 million deficit next school year, which it attributes to a drop in property tax revenue and increases in district salaries. The district has made changes to P.E. time and band and orchestra schedules and reduced custodian workweeks from 40 to 35 hours to reduce costs.


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