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Vancouver Public Schools trading iPads for Chromebooks

June 2, 2019

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — After four years of giving most high school students who walk in its doors an Apple iPad, Vancouver Public Schools is set to spend $2,652,800 over the next four years to replace them.

Advanced students, as it turns out, need keyboards.

The Vancouver school board on Tuesday approved a four-year lease with California-based TEQLEASE, Inc. to buy 8,000 Acer R752TN Chromebooks for high school campuses, as well as at Vancouver iTech Preparatory School and Vancouver School of Arts and Academics. The Acer Chromebooks, which have a touch screen and can be flipped into a tablet, retail for about $430. The lease ends up costing the district about $300 per device. The replacements will arrive this fall.

The district will pay for the contract using its technology levy, which voters approved in February. The six-year levy, which kicks in next year, will collect about 31 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value.

Christina Iremonger, chief digital officer for the school district, said it was time to replace high school devices anyway; the iPads are soon to be out-of-date. Vancouver Public Schools purchased 6,100 iPads in 2015. With interest and fees, that contract cost the district $2,872,360.60, according to a 2015 school board agenda.

Iremonger said it was time for the district to re-examine what type of computing device will best suit its students. Teachers and staff who were surveyed consistently said they liked how iPads let their students collaborate, especially on creative projects. But, “they wanted a keyboard, for sure.”

Kids have fast thumbs these days. In Linda Wilson’s pottery class at Columbia River High School recently, students were building slide shows reflecting on the semester’s work, primarily using their thumbs or pecking at letters on the touch screen.

But Iremonger said teachers wanted a device that would make writing and communicating easier.

“You can add a keyboard case (to the iPads) at an extra cost,” Iremonger said. “We had some of those keyboards available but our students felt they were a little too fragile so they didn’t want to check them out.”

The district plans to resell some used iPads but isn’t getting rid of all of its thousands of tablets.

Students in grades 3 through 8 will continue to use iPads, and some students in special education who use applications adapted to their disabilities will keep the devices. The district will also use new iPads in kindergarten through second grade classes, making one tablet available for every four students.

The district also plans to test a “Bring Your Own Device” model in time for the 2020-2021 school year, allowing students with their own computers or tablets at home to bring them rather than using district-issued computers.

Jason Phelps, an art teacher at Columbia River, stumbled into a mini-Chromebook pilot project this year after one of his students, Christine Choi, won a Google art contest and received several of the laptops for her school.

Phelps said using technology has been a game-changer, “totally changing access to the art world.” He can direct students to watch interactive tours of museums online, or seek inspiration for their latest projects.

The advantage of the Chromebooks, he said, is he can run more complex art programs, like a scaled-back version of Adobe Photoshop.

“I’m hoping it’s more powerful,” he said of the full rollout of Chromebooks.

All of Clark County’s largest school districts provide computers for their students. Evergreen Public Schools gives students from sixth grade onward Chromebooks to take home, and has classroom devices in younger grades. Voters in that district also approved a technology levy in February, the first time that district has done so. That levy will collect about 37 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value.

Battle Ground Public Schools also sends students home with Chromebooks, beginning in sixth grade.

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