Brownwood school trustees spent some time looking into the future at Monday night’s board meeting, and tried to imagine what local public education might be like when that time arrives.
“It’s definitely a new way of thinking,” Superintendent Reece Blincoe told board members after a video presentation he brought back from a conference in San Francisco.
The presentation featured recorded interviews with educators throughout the nation working in school systems that have provided every student at the middle and high school levels with a laptop computer for use not only at school, but also at home.
“We’re not asking for immediate action, but this is just to get us thinking,” Blincoe said. “It about what’s going to happen in the next five to 10 years, and what are we going to do with this?”
The video, produced by Apple Computers, showed school officials from North Carolina to Washington state discussing their programs. They said the computers allowed students to take courses online for college credit and increased college attendance ratios.
Blincoe said a group of Brownwood administrators visited Floydada, where such a program has been implemented. One student there, Blincoe said, had more than 50 college credits from South Plains College when he was handed his high school diploma.
“This is definitely not about the technology,” Blincoe said. “The computer is a tool — it’s a way of learning.”
The superintendent said the most attractive aspect of such a program is that “it will level the playing field. It will give students without access to this at home an opportunity others already have. Secondarily, it will teach all new skills, and an all new mindset. It would improve our attendance rate, lower our dropout rate and improve our going-to-college rate.”
Blincoe said issues related to visits to inappropriate Web sites, insurance and theft must be addressed in such programs, but that they are manageable. Floydada, for example, lost only three computers, and two of those were reported “lost” by people who moved out of the district.
“Everything I read says this is where the future is heading,” Dr. Justin Murphy, trustee and the director of the Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom at Howard Payne University, said at the meeting. He said he has been able to eliminate paper in his university classes, except for the final exam, and communication among professors and students is enhanced.
“The advantage is, if they’re gone from class, they can still do their work,” Murphy said.
Blincoe said Floydada school officials told him students traveling from athletic events use their computers to keep up with homework.
“Plus, we can save money if we can move to reduce paper,” Murphy added. “And there’s no question about the date the work was submitted.”
“This does speak to the heart of a challenge school districts have been given to change the way we teach,” trustee Mark Bradshaw said. “Today’s children are growing up in a digital age, there’s no question. We need to be interactive in how we provide education.”
Blincoe said the cost of entry for such a program could be $1 million for equipment alone, and that doesn’t include upgrades to the technology system that would be needed to handle the increased Internet load.
However, district technology director Edward Yantis told the board that a decision made earlier that evening was a first step toward being ready for such a program.
The board approved a proposal from Harris Broadband for fiber connection to all Brownwood ISD campuses at a cost of $750 a month. Yantis said such a plan from another provider would run $4,600 a month. Yantis said he believes the rate offered is a reflection of the local company’s desire to show its community involvement.
“In essence, this makes the entire district one network,” Yantis said. “It’s more reliable and will operate at a higher speed.”
The fiber connections will replace wireless systems which Yantis said can be affected by environmental conditions and climate. It will ultimately enhance communications between campuses and with the public, he added.
In other business Monday, the school board:
• Approved bids for renovation of the 700 Wing of Brownwood High School under the 2005 school bond election, with a guaranteed maximum price of $988,791. General contractor Paul Waldrop Jr. said the bids were “value engineered” to reduce that figure from $1.4 million. Trustees asked that a plan for ventilating the trades area of the campus be offered next month after a new system there was taken out of the architect’s plan. School officials said that work can be done outside of the bond package.
• Was told that Woodland Heights Elementary School has been named a national finalist for Title I recognition.
• Made plans for a day-long team building and goal setting workshop May 23 at the Texas 4-H Center.