Wake County schools still hope to continue pilot tablet program

Posted by T. Keung Hui on November 21, 2013 

Wake County school administrators still hope to expand a tablet distribution program at East Cary Middle School to test the concept’s use in the school system.

The expansion of the technology program has been on hold since a vote on using $538,790 in federal Race to the Top funds to purchase tablets from Amplify Education Inc. for East Cary Middle was pulled from the Oct. 15 school board meeting. But administrators told board members last week that they hope to bring a tablet deal for approval in December.

East Cary had first gotten free tablets last school year from Amplify, a subsidiary of NewsCorp., to give to sixth-grade students. Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said the pilot program had emerged from the district’s desire to test the feasibility of a tablet program.

The next step for Wake was to use the federal funds to continue the program for East Cary’s sixth-grade students and then to expand it to the school’s seventh-grade students.

The Oct. 15 vote took place around the same time that the Guilford County school system removed from student use more than 15,000 tablets acquired from Amplify. Guilford had experienced issues such as the screens cracking and malfunctioning chargers.

Wake school administrators gave an update on the tablet program at last Thursday’s joint meeting of the school board’s student achievement and policy committees. East Cary Middle Principal Kerry Chisnall and teachers from the school were ecstatic about the tablets, saying they had helped generate a buzz about the school while also improving student learning.

Superintendent Jim Merrill asked about any durability issues with the tablets.

Chisnall said that in the first phase they noticed that when students put the tablets in their backpacks they had an attrition rate of a couple of dozen out of 300 units. Those units had 3G wireless access so that students who didn’t have Internet access at home could still go online.

Chisnall said they later got a different model that only had wifi capability but used tougher glass. Chisnall said the attrition rate was lower with the new models but also noted they didn’t let students take them home.

Chisnall said they if they continue with the program they’d want to have covers and a keyboard.

Chief Business officer David Neter said the units in Guilford County didn’t have gorilla glass. He said the ones Wake would get would be more resilient and come with cases so they’d be less likely to shatter.

Neter said that because of Guilford’s desire to deploy the tablets quickly they didn’t issue them with protective cases. Neter added that he had a letter from the president of Amplify saying they stand behind their product and are replacing all of Guilford’s devices.

Neter said they’ve gotten several responses to their RFP for the tablet program. Moore said they hope to come back to the board with the bids in December.

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