Soroco High School considers laptops | SteamboatToday.com

Soroco High School considers laptops

Plan would provide a MacBook for all incoming freshmen

Jack Weinstein

— Tim Corrigan wants every incoming Soroco High School freshman to have an Apple MacBook laptop computer.

And he'd like the program to start next year.

The South Routt School Board president's idea may sound radical. After all, the current economic recession coupled with a projected reduction in state funding next school year doesn't make the prospect of any expenditure appealing.

But after hearing Corrigan's rationale, it seems more realistic.

"We're preparing students for jobs that don't even exist yet," Corrigan said last week. "So we better be sure we're flexible about how we provide education."

Despite not knowing what those jobs may be, Corrigan said he'd bet they would require significant technological know-how. It's not just about reading, writing and arithmetic anymore, he said.

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Corrigan made the proposal that the South Routt School District should provide a Mac­Book for incoming freshmen at the most recent School Board meeting, after a presentation about an Apple program at the Colorado Association of School Boards meeting last month in Colorado Springs.

Cost is the biggest sticking point in any capital expenditure the district undertakes in the next few years, with Gov. Bill Ritter's proposal to cut statewide K-12 funding by more than $200 million in 2010-11. South Routt's share of the cut is projected to be $221,576.

"We have to hold on to what we have," South Routt Super­intendent Scott Mader said last week. "There are going to be a couple of years ahead of us that will be as bad or worse than they are now. We'll really have to watch our dollars."

But Corrigan said the computers are an expense the district can afford.

The Apple program allows districts to lease the computers by paying one-quarter of the cost each year. Soroco High School has about 30 freshmen each year. So in the first year, the program would cost $7,500. The program would cost $7,500 more each additional year the district participates. At the end of the fourth year, the program would cost about $30,000 a year as each grade's students would have their own laptops.

"It's a tough sell in the current budget environment to talk about adding anything, but we're looking at reduced revenue for several years," Corrigan said. "What that means is we need to be really innovative in the way we educate kids."

But he added, "We can afford to do this. We really can afford it. It just takes some will."

Mader said the program would be more likely if the district could find grant funding, which he said it would pursue.

During his presentation at the School Board meeting, Corrigan said Valley High School in the Weld County School District RE-1 rolled out a similar program that began in February 2009. He said Weld bought 350 laptops. Students returned them to the district for the summer for service and received the same computer at the beginning of the next school year. Only one was lost, and it was lost by a teacher.

Corrigan added that after the first year of the program in a Virginia school district that bought 17,500 laptops, 25 were lost — 15 by teachers.

Aiming to ease concerns about accessible content, Cor­rigan said the laptops in Weld were installed with a filter that restricted any Web site the district chose. They also were programmed to turn off at midnight every day and to turn back on at 5 a.m.

Corrigan added that the program wouldn't require additional software purchasing because the Apple MacBooks come equipped with almost everything students and teachers would need. He envisioned saving money on textbooks after moving to a more Web-based curriculum. Corrigan also said the laptops wouldn't require significant training for students or teachers.

When School Board members asked what he thought about the program at the Dec. 17 meeting, Soroco High School Principal Dennis Alt said, "Let's do it."

Corrigan said the idea to give students computers has been brewing in his mind since he joined the School Board in 2003. He's admittedly biased toward Macs. He bought his first — a second-generation Apple Macintosh — in 1984.

By providing each freshman and, ultimately, student with an Apple MacBook, Corrigan said, the district might be able to provide education in a new way to better prepare students for the future.

"Everyone talks about how much more advanced kids are with technology," he said. "I agree they probably are with Facebook, Twitter and text messaging. I'm not sure they're learning the real skills they'll need in the work force."