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Hernando schools get tech overhaul

an Narvaez, 6, works on a Macintosh iBook G4 during his kindergarten class at Suncoast Elementary School.

KERI WIGINTON | TIMES

an Narvaez, 6, works on a Macintosh iBook G4 during his kindergarten class at Suncoast Elementary School.

BROOKSVILLE — Sometime Monday, just hours into the summer vacation, a technological revolution will break out in Hernando County schools.

In less than two months of frenzied work, the district plans to install more than 11,000 Dell computers under a four-year, $8.1-million leasing program. A school system in which 65 percent of computers were obsolete will see that figure slashed to zero.

For superintendent Wayne Alexander, it's a tangible example of his drive to quickly redress a pattern of inequalities — a school system of "haves and have-nots" — that he noted even before taking control of the 23,000-student district last summer.

"I don't know of any other district that's trying to do this on the time frame that we're doing it," he said Friday.

But even in this seemingly win-win revolution, there are a few rumblings of discontent. Some in schools that bet on the wrong team in the perennial Apple-vs.-PC competition say they're coming up short under the new regime.

Those schools have been told they'll lose the Apple computers they have, even if they're brand new, while schools with extra PCs can keep them.

"We have done everything possible to make the Apple schools comfortable in this transition, and we're very sensitive," said technology director Melissa Harts. "(But) it's really exciting when you see where we're going as a district, trying to give more computers to schools that didn't have any."

Still, for Suncoast Elementary — which for years has pursued grants and even spent teacher bonus money on computers in order to boost students' contact with technology — it's a hard blow.

"We were appalled," said Lisa McIntyre, president of the School Advisory Council. "They're giving us 25 (Apple) laptops to keep for one year. Anything that's too old, they're selling them for $5 instead of leaving them with the schools that are using them."

Suncoast officials were quick to celebrate the good news: Where they once had 444 Apple computers, and less than a third purchased within the last three years, they'll now have 473 Dells.

Following the district's enrollment-based formula at the elementary level, that includes four desktop units for each Suncoast class, a laptop for each teacher, and 79 laptops on carts at the rate of 25 per 200 students. Principals can also opt for a lab of desktops instead of laptops.

But that's a smaller number of laptops than the 91 currently being used by students at the school, according to district figures. And the school won't be able to keep any of the new 126 Apples it currently has, except for a 25-unit lab for a single transition year.

The remaining new computers will go to the district's warehouse and be "repurposed," while 318 older computers will be sold in bulk, Harts said.

Some of those warehoused Apples will be sent to schools that need them for specialized applications such as graphic design or film editing, she said. Others purchased with federal grants will go to grant-receiving districts in order to comply with regulations.

That will also be the fate of new Apples at other district schools — 165 of them at Westside Elementary, 49 at Eastside, a large proportion of the 173 new machines at J.D. Floyd, and a smattering at Spring Hill and Moton.

"There are laptops here that will be sold to recycling that we could use," said Lynn Brainard, technology coordinator at Suncoast. "I think the feeling is people would like to keep the laptops we have until they don't work anymore. There will not be as much student access to laptops next year as there is this year."

In recent years, teachers at Suncoast have filled their classrooms with parents for technology-laden presentations. Book reports by PowerPoint have been the norm, and older students have designed music and films with Apple editing software, Brainard said.

That might explain the push-back from parents, said principal Jean Ferris.

"Our parents have always been invited to these showcases, and I think that's why they're concerned," she said. "If we could keep (the computers) until they die, we'd be very happy. But I understand the equity issue, too."

For Alexander, that question of equity — to "create a parity across the district," in his words — is a top concern. But it's not the only concern.

"I see (the goal of) uniformity; I see consistency in a district where that was a profound concern that people had," he said. "But I don't think the amount of computers is the issue. It's how you go about utilizing them to improve a child's academic performance."

Technical support is also a real concern, Harts said. While the PC lease comes with strong customer support from Dell, "the Apples are not going to be supported."

Of the 11,218 Dells arriving over the next few weeks, 10,763 are destined for the schools, including 4,805 laptops. The rest are earmarked for administration, including special education and maintenance.

That's a lot of computers. But if schools can make a strong case for why they need their Apples, too, they'll get to keep them, Alexander said.

"This is a new and exciting endeavor," he added. "We'll make some adjustments as we go on."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

>>Fast Facts

How many computers will each school get?

SchoolNew computers

Brooksville Elementary435

Chocachatti Elementary417

Deltona Elementary496

Eastside Elementary356

J.D. Floyd Elementary632

Moton Elementary404

Pine Grove Elementary587

Suncoast Elementary473

Spring Hill Elementary526

Westside Elementary438

Explorer K-8758

Challenger K-8645

Parrott Middle326

Powell Middle405

Fox Chapel Middle365

West Hernando Middle404

Central High685

Hernando High640

Nature Coast Technical High608

Springstead High835

Star Alternative80

Growth extras248

SCHOOL TOTAL10,763

DISTRICT TOTAL11,218

Source: Hernando County School District

Hernando schools get tech overhaul 06/07/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 13, 2008 9:31am]
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