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TMCNet:  Shelby County Schools orders 13,000 tablets, enough for 16 schools [The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn. :: ]

[May 30, 2014]

Shelby County Schools orders 13,000 tablets, enough for 16 schools [The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn. :: ]

(Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 30--Billy Orgel has been patient with descriptions of the 13,000 Lenovo tablets the school board this week paid $5.4 million to lease, but what he really wanted to do was see the prototype in person.

When he did, he was like a kid with a new Erector set. While the rest of the board was on the dais, Orgel was wrapped up in a Lenovo 11e, touching it, flexing it and dropping -- from 6 feet if he wanted -- the backpack-friendly tablet that will be assigned every student in 16 Shelby County Schools this fall.

"If we don't get kids on a technologically advanced path, then we set them up for failure. The whole world works on computers, laptops or smartphones," board member Orgel said.

The tablets will go to: Caldwell-Guthrie, Cherokee, Fairley, Levi, Lucy, Ford Road, Raineshaven and Riverwood elementaries; Douglass, Riverview and Lowrance K-8s; Hamilton, Highland Oaks and Sherwood middles; Maxine Smith STEAM Academy for grades 6-8 and Melrose High.

The cost per student is $420.18.

Board members say outfitting students with personal technology will be a game-changer in a district and city lashed with low literacy rates and even lower access to technology.

"I hope it's Plan A is to roll it out to the whole district rather than Plan B," said board member Chris Caldwell.

After months of hearing about the project and visiting Huntsville (Ala.) City Schools where every student is assigned a laptop, the school board Tuesday approved a three-year deal with Unistar-Sparco Computers in Millington. The package includes one-year access to Pearson's Common Core-based curriculum for $650,000.

In the first year, Supt. Dorsey Hopson told board members they can expect 10-point gain in test scores.

"Will teachers be able to collaborate in the 16 schools?" Caldwell asked experts from Pearson, here Wednesday to walk board members through the software.

"We have an incentive to make sure our solutions have efficacy," said Larry Singer, managing director for its North America School division. "We are intensely interested in your success. If you fail, it will slow down the whole industry." In one lesson, sophomores will be asked to name the qualities that make people human after reading Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" plus nonfiction passages about artificial intelligence and famous robots, including Deep Blue. They will write, type, record -- even draw their responses to questions like: "None of us asked to be born; does that mean we are not responsible for our own happiness?" If they are arguing for the humanity of Shelley's monster, they may be asked to create a Facebook page for him -- on their tablets.

Students will have access to the district's safe Internet at school and at home, if their families have Internet access.

The district will monitor the tablets from its IT department, where their location will show up as dots on a map. Lost tablets will be "treated as if you lost your phone," said board chairman Kevin Woods. "No one is calling the police if you leave it at the gym. In the event a student reports an item lost or stolen, the district would be able to activate the tracing system on the software." In 2007, legacy Memphis City Schools lost 1,800 student laptops in less than three months. When teachers noticed they were not returning to school, the district locked up the remainder, effectively squandering a $5.8 million investment.

This time, SCS will be able to remotely wipe software off missing tablets. "The minute we know it is not in our control, it will be completely worthless," said interim chief IT officer Emily Owens, a Fed Ex transplant.

Orgel suggested telling pawnshops that. He also suggested the tablets be a "wild, crazy" color so everyone will know 'don't buy these, they are stolen goods.'" When the board discussed school closings this winter, Hopson promised those neighborhoods would get first consideration in the rollout. But because SCS is studying a larger rollout, it also chose schools with varying levels of technology.

"That's what you want so you get a representative sample of schools in the district so you get a feel of what it is going to take to implement," Caldwell said.

The tablets are scheduled to arrive in the schools June 30.

"We are going to know where each is the minute we flip that switch, so everybody doesn't think we are letting loose 13,000 devices," Caldwell said.

___ (c)2014 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.) Visit The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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