The Cullman County Board of Education is finally ready to roll out the first phase of its ambitious new technology initiative, thanks to half-cent sales tax revenue saved over the past three years.
School officials have approved a three-year lease agreement with Apple for 750 MacBook Air laptops, which will be provided to students and administrators as the first phase of a larger strategy working up to a 1:1 device initiative that aims to equip students and teachers with digital learning tools.
“These machines will get us started so we can begin a full year of professional development of having that digital curriculum in place,” superintendent Dr. Craig Ross said. “It’s phase one of 5-6 phases that we’ll bring in over the next few years.”
County schools technology director Bruce Ellard explained the first phase will provide teachers with new laptops so they can learn how to use the technology, before rolling out devices (laptops, iPads, etc.) in a larger phase for students.
Most school computers have traditionally been Windows-based PCs, but Ellard said the proliferation of iPads, along with the general reliability of Apple products, led to the decision to lease MacBooks.
“The first step in getting more devices into the classrooms and making sure teachers are prepared for the devices similar to what students will be using,” Ellard explained. “This is an opportunity for them to get familiar with the devices and content before students are provided a device. It’s a bit of a shift for us, but with iPads coming in, this will allow them to more efficiently manage things with Apple products.”
Once teachers receive their laptops in May, Ellard said they’ll start up a new series of professional development focused on digital learning and the tools available within the medium. The school board has already had a committee working for some time to test and discuss which digital learning tools to use once they’ve reached this point.
“The next phase will be student devices, but that’s at least another school year out,” Ellard said. “We want the teachers to be really comfortable with the digital content we’ve been evaluating before carrying that out. We’ll be training in the summer and they’ll start using more digital content next school year. It’s very exciting to see the leadership and direction for technology and the integration of technology.”
The county school system has agreed to pay $290,915 per year as part of a three-year lease agreement for the laptop computers (including warranty), and once that period ends, the board will be able to renew the lease with newer computers or purchase the older computers at a heavily discounted rate.
“This allows us to spread that out, and it gives us several options,” Ellard said.
The agreement was funded by half-cent sales tax revenue, a portion of which was specifically set aside for technology upgrades in recent years.
“Every three years they’ll be able to get a new machine, and this protects our investment, so we don’t have to spend any extra on insurance,” Ross said. “The funds very easily came from half-cent sales tax, which is what it was intended for.”