December 12, 2012

Portland schools buy 1,000 computers

Many will go to elementary students and teachers as the district upgrades its 'mishmash' of technology.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — In a $2 million technology upgrade, the Portland school district has purchased almost 1,000 Apple computers, most of them for elementary school teachers and students.

click image to enlarge

Some of the new Apple computers for the Portland Public School students set up and ready for distribution at the Computer Technology Services Department on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

Some of the computers have already been distributed, school officials said Wednesday. The funding came from the city's capital improvement plan, which was approved earlier this year.

Elementary school teachers and students are getting 660 computers, and 325 new laptops are earmarked for high school students.

Some of the funding will pay to upgrade the district's network infrastructure and language lab work stations.

Technology in the elementary schools is now "completely a mishmash," said Trey Bachner, the district's director of computer technology services.

The new Ocean Avenue Elementary School, for example, has relatively up-to-date technology, but other schools have computers dating back to the 1990s.

"Elementary schools historically have always gotten hand-me-downs from the other levels," Bachner said. "(But) the school board and the city said that from an equity perspective, we need to be looking at all levels."

There are increasing reports that the very young -- even toddlers -- intuitively grasp how to use the latest tablet technology, and apps are written just for that age group.

"It's becoming more and more apparent that focus at the lower grades is just as important as the middle and high school grades," Bachner said.

He said elementary school teachers and administrators are getting Apple laptops, so "at the most basic level" every elementary classroom will now have a computer.

About 260 laptops will be distributed to elementary school teachers and administrators. The remaining 400 Apple computers -- laptops and desktops -- will be for students.

"The day before Thanksgiving, my students went on a virtual tour of the Mayflower," Kristen Fox, a teacher at Reiche Community School, said in a news release. "This easy access to technological resources is an extremely valuable teaching and learning tool, and my students have become even more engaged with learning as a result."

The school district did a $1.3 million technology upgrade for high school students almost three years ago.

In January 2010, the district distributed 2,129 netbooks to high school students. The district paid for the computers with $785,000 in federal money and $500,000 borrowed through the city's capital improvement plan.

On Wednesday, the district said those netbooks are now obsolete and many no longer work.

Bachner, who started working for the district this year, said funding for technology upgrades has been "piecemeal." One of the capital improvement plan's goals is to create a more strategic cycle of funding and upgrades to school technology.

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com

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