Last week the Forest Park Elementary District 91 school board authorized spending slightly more than half a million dollars on technology as part of a massive upgrade of the district’s technological capacity as the district tries to move into 21st Century learning.

The school board voted June 13 for a series of upgrades which in total will cost $553,314.75. As part of the upgrade the district is purchasing 200 Google Chromebooks for student use. The Chromebooks will be used in 12 classrooms next year as part of a pilot program as the district takes its first steps toward a goal of giving every student his own electronic device to use in the classroom.

“The goal is eventually one to one, every student,” said District 91 Superintendent Lou Cavallo. “That will take time.”

Next year the Chromebooks will be used in classes ranging from kindergarten to the eighth grade. Students will not be allowed to take the Chromebooks home as of now.

The 200 Chromebooks will only cost the district $55,400 or $277 per Chromebook. The low price is just one factor that made the Chromebook more attractive to the district than a full-fledged laptop computer or a tablet.

“The [Chromebook] laptops will allow students to be a lot more productive and a lot more collaborative,” Cavallo said.

Chromebooks are lightweight (just under 2 ½ pounds) laptops that run a simple, fast operating system to access the Internet for all applications using web based cloud computing. New Director of Instructional Technology James Eichmiller said that he liked the Chromebook’s speed (they boot up in eight seconds), flexibility and simplicity. The nearly instantaneous boot up time means almost no instructional time will be lost Eichmiller said.

“We don’t box ourselves in a platform,” Eichmiller said. “Chromebooks do 95 percent of what you want them to do 100 percent of the time.” Eichmiller said that Chromebooks are easy to use and to manage.

Board member Sean Blaylock cast the only vote against purchasing the Chromebooks after suggesting that the district consider alternatives such as Windows based or Apple laptops or tablets. Blaylock said that sales of Chromebooks have been weak.

“I’m concerned about whether that device will be around in five years,” Blaylock said.

The school board also voted to spend $331,000 to buy 418 new computers, 300 desktop computers for the schools and 100 laptops for teachers. Next year each teacher in the district will have a Windows based laptop computer. There will also be new desktop computers for all classrooms throughout the district and new desktop computers for the computer labs in the school libraries at the four elementary schools. There will also be new computers for the computer instruction classroom at the Forest Park Middle School.

“The computers that we currently have are outdated,” Cavallo said.

The new computers for teachers are necessary to maximize the effectiveness of the Chromebooks according to Edward Brophy, Assistant Superintendent for Operations. “We have to have the desktops in place when we implement Chromebooks,” Brophy said.

Cavallo said that when he came to District 91 as superintendent in 2007 the district’s computers were a hodgepodge of homemade computers

“We had a mess in this district,” Cavallo said.

The district is also shelling out $124,259 for 33 new fixed mounted Promethean Interactive Whiteboards for classrooms and one portable whiteboard.

The whiteboards work like a giant touchpad.

“It’s an interactive chalk board,” said Joe Pisano, an eighth grade teacher at Forest Park Middle School. “It totally makes the classroom interactive. For me it just completely transformed the classroom.”

Thirty-nine Promethean Whiteboards were used this past year in District 91, 30 at the middle school.

Finally the district is spending $42,629.75 for new network switches in all five schools and the district office to beef up the network infrastructure to support all this new equipment and keep everything running smoothly.

“We knew we were probably going to need more wireless access points,” Cavallo said.

The existing network switches in the district are all about eight years old and only operate at a speed of 100 megabits per second which would not be fast enough to support the increased demands on the system next year.

“It is important to increase the network infrastructure in our buildings,” Brophy said. The new Cisco switches will be one gigabit switches. The district will also add 64 gigabits of Random Access Memory.

The $553,314.75 being spent this summer represents a total expenditure of slightly less than four percent of the district’s Education Fund and about 33 percent of the district’s capital outlay budget Brophy said.

“We want to set the standard for technology,” Cavallo said.

“We have the funds to make sure that we are a top-notch school district not just one that gets by with the bare minimum,” Cavallo added.

He continued, “We’ve thought through this very carefully. We’re rolling things out in a slow, but steady way. It seems like a lot of money, but technology is not cheap. Much of what we’re buying is for replacement not just new technology. It’s replacing older machines that have outlived their useful life with better technology.”

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