Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tax hikes gave kids tech smarts

Chase Michael, left, and Michael Osgood, both 13, log on to their computers in their seventh-grade language arts class at Osceola Middle School in mid December. The laptops stay in the classrooms.


Chase Michael, left, and Michael Osgood, both 13, log on to their computers in their seventh-grade language arts class at Osceola Middle School in mid December. The laptops stay in the classrooms.


Starting her class at a brisk pace, Karen Glasgow gave her seventh-grade students at Osceola Middle School eight minutes to write a blog.

The chatter quickly quieted, replaced by a rush of tapping on laptop keys. Soon, Glasgow called for volunteers to read out their postings.

Charles Burns, 12, shared a fictional account of what he would serve an enemy for dinner, topping off his menu with "manure cakes with regurgitated worms and moose hair."

Doris Gjoka, 12, produced a list of how to annoy one's parents that included making random calls to Canada.

The laptop each student uses has made such quick bursts of creativity possible, teachers say.

And it's all thanks to Pinellas County voters.

"This has definitely been an evolution of the way we teach," said teacher Marcene Juergens. "If not for the referendum money, we don't know what we'd do."

Pinellas school officials say the half-mill tax hike voters approved in 2004 and again in 2008 has helped kick start an ambitious technology program in the district. In the past four years, the district has allocated $7.1 million for technology, money that mostly went toward purchasing equipment and teacher training.

By the time the referendum expires in 2013, the district hopes to equip 1,200 teachers with interactive white boards and set up five podcasting labs in every middle and high school.

"Without (the referendum), we would have never been able to go down that path at the rate that we are going," said Pat Lusher, Pinellas schools' director of academic computing. "The referendum puts hardware in the kids' hands."

About $38 million in referendum dollars was collected last year and most of it — 80 percent — went toward enhancing teacher salaries and benefits. The rest was spent on programs in four areas: reading and language arts, visual arts, music and technology.

Schools used the money to buy everything from high school band uniforms to reading software to guitars.

Referendum dollars also helped lease about 800 laptops, one for each student, at Osceola Middle, according to school officials. The pilot program allows students to work on the laptops during the school day, although they can't take them home.

Academic improvement is difficult to track because of too many variables, said Susan Alvaro, Osceola Middle's assistant principal. But since officials rolled out the program four years ago, attendance rates, discipline and FCAT scores all have improved.

Alvaro and teachers at Osceola credit the interactive capabilities the laptops bring to classrooms.

"They are learning so much more, and so much faster. They are achieving more than just paper and pencil and turning textbook pages," said teacher Donna Johnson. "This is their life, this is their future."

The laptop leases will expire over the next two years, so school officials plan to replace them with smaller netbooks — half the price of laptops. By trading in the older laptops and using regular school funding, the "school is sustaining the program. There is no need for referendum funds," Lusher said.

Although the laptop program has been well-received, it is being phased out. Replicating it in all schools would not be feasible because of the technical and financial resources it would take, according to a district report.

But district officials said they learned how to develop models to implement technology in schools.

"We wanted to see how we could create and build a model and drop it off at a school, and what kind of process or resources we would need," Lusher said. "The referendum allowed us to build a budget and provide professional development for teachers ."

While district officials work on the next technology initiative —smartboards for classrooms — Osceola Middle students get to continue exploring with their laptops.

Having the laptops doesn't exempt students from reading textbooks. Amanda Taylor, 12, had to study for a geography test from one. But her tests are administered through the computers.

"If I don't finish it, I can save it before submitting it and take it tomorrow," said the sixth-grader. The test "is based on the book."

After she and her classmates finished their tests, many spent the remaining minutes before class ended surfing the Internet.

Brett Lounsbury, 12, piloted a simulated flight on Google Earth. Done with zipping through the world, he looked up satellite images of his home.

Referendum dollar allocations (in millions of dollars)
Year Tech Visual arts Music Reading Salaries/Benefits Total
2005-06 1 1 1 2.2 24.3 30.4
2006-07 1.7 1.7 1.9 3 31 36.6
2007-08 2.2 1.7 2.4 3.5 32.8 43
2008-09 2.3 1.6 2.5 3.5 31.3 41.7

Tax hikes gave kids tech smarts 01/02/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 2, 2010 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  2. Kushner to testify before two intelligence committees


    WASHINGTON— President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is set to make a second appearance on Capitol Hill — he will speak with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, one day after he is scheduled to speak with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators behind closed doors.

    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. [Associated Press]
  3. Rays blow lead in ninth, lose in 10 to Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Kevin Cash liked the way Alex Cobb was competing Friday night. He liked the way the hard contact made by the Rangers batters went away after the second or third inning. So as the game headed toward the ninth, there was no doubt in Cash's mind that sending Cobb back to the mound was …

    Rays starter Alex Cobb can hardly believe what just happened as he leaves the game in the ninth after allowing a leadoff double then a tying two-run homer to the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo.
  4. Exhumation of Dalí's remains finds his mustache still intact


    FIGUERES, Spain — Forensic experts in Spain have removed hair, nails and two long bones from Salvador Dalí's embalmed remains to aid a court-ordered paternity test that may enable a woman who says she is the surrealist artist's daughter to claim part of Dalí's vast estate.

    Salvador Dal? died in 1989 leaving vast estate.
  5. Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show


    WASHINGTON — Russia's ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, current and former U.S. …

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation after meetings with an ambassador were revealed.