At a board meeting earlier this month, District 97 staff presented an updated plan proposing to start Phase 1 next month with the purchase of 750 iPad minis to give to fifth graders.
Some board members expressed concern about the timing of the rollout as families and teachers return from summer vacation, without much notice of the plan. District 97 Superintendent Dr. Al Roberts Tuesday encouraged board members to pass the initiative, acknowledging he still has concerns about how the iPads would be used and implemented at an administrative level.
"If you possess a tool and misuse it, you might not get the project you want... If you don't even have the tool in your hand, you can't try," Roberts said.
"Our kids are going to live in this world... Suggesting that they not have the tool seems to be counterproductive," he said.
Board member Peter Traczyk voted in favor of the plan, but encouraged staff and board members to be "aggressive" in its communication to the community. Board member Jim O'Connor, who questioned whether the plan was the best use of the district's referendum funds at the Aug. 6 meeting, cast the only "no" vote.
Board Vice President James Gates lauded the benefits iPads will bring to District 97 Tuesday, but stressed the importance of qualified teachers over any smart device.
"There is no technology in the world that will ever come close to the impact on student learning than a highly qualified teacher in every classroom," he said. " ... Please do not look at these devices as a panacea for good, old-fashioned teaching, because if you think that will be the case, you will be disappointed."
To start, the iPads will remain in the classrooms overnight until students “graduate,” and take full-time responsibility for the device, Lisa Schwartz, director of instruction and assessment in District 97 told board members earlier this month.
Following a board update on the rollout, the district would pass the devices on to fourth grade students. Each grade would follow the same process of keeping the iPad at school and graduating to full-time use. The plan would be implemented at the middle school level in the fall of 2014.
District 97 spokesman Chris Jasculca said the district is tentatively scheduled to roll out the initiative at the fifth grade level on Sept. 30. He said staff will be reviewing the implementation plan in upcoming days, and will make any adjustments necessary to ensure the initiative is successful.
Using referendum funds, the district will buy 2,050 iPad minis and 30 carts for $1,096,335 by the end of the 2013-14 school year. In the second year, the district will buy 2,000 iPad minis for $934,000.
To cover any lost or damaged devices, each family will pay an annual technology fee of $22. The district will self-insure, with the expectation that it will have to replace up to five percent of the devices, and set aside funds cover costs for students on free and reduced lunch.