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Rowan-Salisbury school board unanimously approves technology lease

By Rebecca Rider

rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — It took the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education 20 minutes Monday to make its decision to renew a 3-year technology lease with Apple, Inc.

The decision came after an hour and a half of public comment — in which teachers, students and a few parents praised the school’s one-to-one initiative — and was the culmination of nearly two months of careful deliberation on part of the board.

It would cost the board roughly $14 million to renew its lease with Apple. The school system’s current stock of laptops and iPads could be used as a down payment of approximately $3 million, giving the board three years to pay off the remaining $11 million.

Those with a stake in the initiative turned out in force Monday evening, speaking one after another in favor of the often controversial program. Teachers praised the technology’s ability to accommodate struggling students, its importance in collecting data and allowing teachers to zero in on student need and its ability to engage struggling students.

“If we take away those iPads, we’re going to hurt the kids who need it the most,” Anthony Johnson, school system and regional Teacher of the Year said.

Several teachers also spoke of the technology’s ability to level the playing field for students who live in poverty and their more affluent peers, as well as for students who fall behind their peers in class.

“My students wouldn’t have these resources if we didn’t have them for them,” Sally Schultz, a fifth-grade teacher at Hanford-Dole said.

Robin Daye, a fourth-grade teacher at Hanford Dole, said she uses technology to record all of her lessons, and students who are struggling to keep up in class are able to rewatch the video as many times as they need to, privately and without fear of criticism or teasing.

However, teachers and students both acknowledged that the initiative was far from perfect — technology can still be misused. But they said they felt the benefits outweighed the detriments.

“It does help us more than it does hurt us,” Morgan Koontz, a sophomore at West Rowan High School said.

Others emphasized that the technology was, ultimately a tool, and that the most important component was still the teacher.

“It is just a tool, it’s a tool… It’s not what makes me a good teacher,” Greg Stienbarger, a teacher at Knox Middle School said.

To Stienbarger, there was no question that technology had a place in the classroom. The issue, he said, was pinning down how to implement it so that it wasn’t cumbersome or a burden on staff and students.

Amy Pruitt, director of Horizons Unlimited, agreed, and said the only question was figuring out how to use technology to best benefit students and teachers.

“Good or bad, this is our reality,” she said. “However, we decide how we use it.”

After public comment, Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody skipped her planned presentation, referencing a story of a preacher who always said he should “just sit down” after the choir sang, because they said all that needed to be said.

“I think the choir sang tonight,” she said.

Board member Travis Allen said in the two weeks since the board’s work session, he reached out over social media, asking parents, teachers, principals and students to be “brutally honest” with him about their views on technology.

After reading that feedback, Allen said he planned to vote in support of the lease, bud did say he had some concerns. He encouraged teachers not to underestimate how important they are in a classroom — no technology can replace a teacher passionately sharing with students.

“And I don’t want our teachers to lose that,” he said.

He also said he would like to see some of the money used to fund technology returned to its original purpose — running copies, providing more classroom materials and more books in classes.

“My fear is that with this one-to-one we’ve put all our eggs in one basket,” he said.

Board member Dean Hunter spoke up and said he was “very disturbed” that there seemed to be a perception that the board might vote to take technology away.

“I’m very disappointed that that happened,” he said.

It was never the board’s intent to remove technology, he said. Hunter also said he was disappointed that parents and community members who often speak against one-to-one hadn’t shown up to the meeting.

Hunter said he’d planned to vote against the motion, or to encourage the use of a shared cart in kindergarten through second grade, which he estimated could save up to $1 million.

“I’m fearful that we just continue signing leases year after year without holding ourselves accountable,” he said in an interview after the meeting.

However, Hunter said he changed his mind on voting against the lease, and on shared carts, after listening to teachers.

Board member Dr. Richard Miller made a motion to approve the lease renewal, and Vice Chair Susan Cox seconded. The motion was unanimously approved.

In an interview after the meeting, Board Chair Josh Wagner said the board, and the school system, would continue to look at and tweak the program to ensure technology wasn’t being overused.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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