September 4, 2013

Tablets invade Maine laptop program

Sixty percent of students will use iPads this year, a major evolution after the state let schools choose from a list of technology options.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Andrew Wallace, director of technology for South Portland schools, has his team preparing more than 1,500 iPads for students. The iPad didn’t exist when the state last bought computers for schools, in 2009. Other Maine districts selected Apple MacBook Air laptops.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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Speedy rollout eases LePage delay impact

In May, school officials across Maine feared they would not get new laptops and tablets in time for this school year, since Gov. Paul LePage had delayed awarding the new program contracts by several weeks.

But school technology officials now say the rollout by Apple and Hewlett-Packard has been impressively fast and problem-free.

"I'm amazed that (Apple) got this stuff out to all of the state with the time frame they had," said Crystal Priest, technology coordinator in School Administrative District 4, which covers Guilford and five other towns and received 394 iPads. "Just the logistics of running around the state and putting in 200 or 300 new networks and getting the right equipment in and training done in next to no time is just amazing."

In SAD 75, which serves Topsham and three other towns, Apple delivered 1,250 MacBook Airs for middle and high school students and their teachers. "We're just waiting for cases for our middle school students' devices," said the district's technology director, Kerry Gallivan. "Everything else is ready to go."

Things have also gone smoothly for Scarborough Middle School, one of the 33 Maine schools that are using HP ProBooks, apart from some network printing issues, said Scarborough's director of information systems, Jennifer Nitchman.

"It's a testament to the team here at (the Maine Department of Education) and to the commitment of both HP and Apple to seeing (the Maine Learning Technology Initiative) be successful that less than four months after Maine first announced the next generation of this program, tens of thousands of students across the state are firing up new devices," Department of Education spokeswoman Samantha Warren said in a written statement. "Lost in the conversation about network costs and who ordered how many of what is that Maine is making an incredible investment in all of our students by giving them equal access to technology they'll need to be successful in college and the workforce."

-- Colin Woodard, staff writer

This item was updated at 9:40 a.m. Sept. 4 to correct the last name of Crystal Priest.

The iPad was the cheapest of the four packages -- which include support and networking equipment -- at $266 per person. The HP laptop cost $286. The state paid the full cost of both devices for use by seventh- and eighth-graders and their teachers.

The MacBook Air came in at $343, with school districts paying about $58 per seventh- and eighth-grade student out of their own budgets. (Districts were responsible for the full cost of all three devices for high school and other students.)

Ninety percent of Maine schools stayed with Apple-made devices. Three-quarters of the schools that stuck with laptops went for MacBooks rather than HP ProBooks, despite the higher cost.

NO LONGER A ONE-DEVICE SYSTEM

The end of Maine's single-device system could cause headaches, Toy said, including extra work for the Department of Education officials who are responsible for the program. But in the end, he said, it will be a positive development.

"The bad side is that you do lose some consistency, and your professional development for teachers is going to be more diversified and complicated and probably more expensive," he said. "But choice is good, in that once you get out of school and into the world, you're facing choices."

Bette Manchester, who oversaw the laptop program for the Department of Education until 2007, disagreed.

"People say Maine is the gold standard for how to do a (one-computer-per-student) system, but we just lost a key piece to what we had," she said. "What was unique was that we had a statewide community with everyone using similar devices, which made staff development easier and made it easier to sense what each other was working on."

Samantha Warren, spokeswoman for the Department of Education, would not discuss the merits of single- and multiple-technology systems, saying there was no debate on the issue.

"Schools were clearly supportive of choice, and that's why you see a three-way division of devices chosen," she said in an email.

LePage's spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, also declined to discuss the issue.

The Portland Press Herald reported in May that LePage considered discontinuing the laptop program but was talked out of it by his education commissioner.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

cwoodard@pressherald.com

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