Mahwah schools exploring lease of 1000 laptops for teachers, classroom carts –

MAHWAH — A team of educators and administrators this week proposed a new laptop initiative at Mahwah High School and Ramapo Ridge Middle School.

Junior Rachelle Menzella, center, works on a group project on her laptop during Diana McKenna's film and literature class at Pascack Valley High School on Friday, March 4, 2016.

Over the past decade, schools across Bergen County and Passaic County — including Northern Valley Regional High School, Passaic City schools and Brookside Middle School in Allendale — have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on expansive laptop initiatives aimed at putting one laptop in each student’s hands.

Such initiatives, often featuring the purchase of Web-based laptops known as Google Chromebooks, also have also rolled out at a time when the state has unveiled online common-core assessments.

At Wednesday night’s school board meeting, Superintendent C. Lauren Schoen proposed a two-year plan to lease more than 1,000 new HP laptops for teachers and use in rolling classroom carts.

Schoen said the plan takes into account lessons from other schools, as well as student and teacher input from a pilot laptop program at the middle school and high school this year. The district will develop curriculum goals, lesson plans and rubrics to help assess the plan and students’ progress as it rolls out.

Teachers also will receive professional development and training in using the laptops and Microsoft Office 365 online suite, which students can access on any device.

In the 2016-17 school year, the district would lease 856 new HP Probook 430 G3 laptops at a projected total cost of $510,000. The devices — $595 apiece — would cost $170,000 each year of the three-year lease.

The district went with HP laptops that aren’t so “Google-centric,” said School Business Administrator Kyle Bleeker.

“Certain tests we have to administer may not like Chrome,” he said of Google’s internet browser. The HP laptops also allow third-party software, he said.

In the 2017-18 school year, the district would lease 504 devices at a total cost of $300,000 — about $100,000 per year.

All told, that would result in an annual budget line item of $270,000 to sustain the technology, said Bleeker.

About 150 laptops would go to staff members at Ramapo Ridge Middle School and Mahwah High School. Most would help increase the number of laptop carts shared by math, science, world language, social studies, health and special-needs teachers.

Ramapo Ridge Middle School Principal Brian Miller said this year’s pilot program, with 15 of his teachers receiving laptops and training, has “spread enthusiasm” about the plan.

Miller added that it would also mean fewer students sharing one device, which would help make the laptops run faster and longer.

The district has a $57.2-million budget this school year, and about 1,800 children attend the middle school and high school.

One parent at Wednesday’s meeting asked Schoen and other trustees why the district waited so long to start such a plan.

“Schools stopped talking about carts years ago,” said Scott Gazlow, who said he’s subbed in Mahwah schools and worked in the Northern Valley Regional High School technology department. “You’re far behind them.”

Gazlow said he worries Mahwah students are now less prepared for college than other North Jersey children. “The kids that are going into college now, from districts that have 1:1, they are learning differently,” he said.

Schoen, saying she agreed with Gazlow’s ideas overall, countered that the district’s teachers have prepared students well for college.

“Our proposal is to get as many devices into the hands of students to get us closer to the world you’re talking about,” she said to Gazlow.

Schoen later said: “The board can’t afford it with the budget it currently has.”

Trustee Charles Saldarini, a member of the finance committee, praised the proposal: “It’s easier to accelerate than to launch big and start with hiccups.”

Leasing the laptops instead of buying them outright also will let the district keep up with rapidly-evolving technology and change course if needed, said Trustee Douglas D’Angelo. “You may make a mistake; school districts do it all the time,” he said. “It’s hard to go back to the taxpayer and say ‘we’re going to redo it.’ ”

In 2014, the nonprofit education news site Hechinger Report detailed an initiative at Hoboken schools to give each student a take-home laptop. A lack of teacher preparation and also unanticipated costs hampered the program, and the district later moved toward putting the laptops in rolling carts.

Trustee Christine Davis, who also teaches at Ramsey public schools, said the “slow approach” helps teachers get on board and the district figure out what’s working and what’s not. Fellow Trustee Richard DeSilva agreed: “If teachers aren’t comfortable and don’t have that professional development in place to really make the most out of that tool, it’s not going to be successful in the classroom.”



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