Clearwater High School principal Keith Mastorides announced in June his plan to say goodbye to textbooks this fall and arm every student and teacher with an e-reader. The school is using its own textbook and technology allocations to fund the pilot project. Times staff writer Rebecca Catalanello recently talked with Mastorides about the effort.
Tell me how you got the idea to put an e-reader in every student's hands.
There's several things. One is our district is using decentralized decisionmaking, a new process that Dr. (Julie) Janssen has started. The idea behind it is principals have a little more flexibility in reference to budgets and processes within the school. …
The second piece is every year our school does a survey like all the others and the community, the students, the staff always mention on there we need to find a way to integrate more technology. …
The kids today start on a computer. Two-thirds of their time is spent on technology, whether it be phones, computers, iPods. It's the way of today. Kids today think differently, and we needed to find ways to capture that and bring it in as opposed to pushing it off as so many of us do in education.
So, initially we were looking at computers. But we realized quickly that computers were way too expensive. Yeah, you could find one for $200 or $300. But by the time you put all the software on it, get the wireless network and all the pieces you need, you were at $1,000 apiece. So it was not cost effective.
So we started looking at what were the things we really wanted. We wanted to be able to put comments in textbooks. That was one piece. Another piece was that we wanted kids to be able to have some Internet capability. We don't necessarily need color pictures and flash and video and that kind of stuff. But we wanted them to get basic information so that if they're doing a research paper, they can find it. We also wanted them to be able to look up grades and attendance and be able to send messages back and forth to the teachers.
So, looking at all this, we realized that many of the e-readers have those capabilities. One of the ones we're still looking at is the Kindle.
Not all textbooks are available in an electronic version. What challenges have you encountered so far getting textbook publishers to work with you on this?
It's a paradigm shift for everybody. And we've met with a few of the companies already. They are working on it for us. … You can't start a pilot and put every single book on there — it would be almost impossible. So, we're working now on English and math first and then the other subjects. … We also have some other resources out there. Like there's CK12.org. They provide online textbooks for free. We're looking at them. It's out of California. It's part of their education system so it's tied to the California state standards. … We're hoping that the St. Pete Times also comes on board. Currently, they deliver 500-plus newspapers to our front door every day for students to read and gather information from. Instead of that, we can do it electronically and be able to put it on all of our kids' Kindles daily. That's exciting, too.
You were committed to putting this in the hands of every student from the beginning. Why did you feel that was important?
It is a pilot. And the scope piece again is the number of books we're going to put on it. … In a high school with 2,200 kids, it's impossible to choose a small group and make it equitable, because all of a sudden you have the haves and have-nots. A student in Algebra I, for example, could be a ninth-, 10th-, or 11th-grader. So, would you have a ninth-grader have it and a 10th- and 11th-grader not? And then how does the teacher work through those things.
One of the questions we were bombarded with on tampabay.com was, 'What will happen if kids lose the e-readers?'
Currently, if a student loses a textbook, they have to pay for it. There is already a process in place for that. We're actually going beyond what we do with textbooks, and we're coming up with an insurance policy. We're working with a few companies, and we're in negotiations with that. So that if a student loses it, they can purchase an insurance policy for a minimal fee and that will cover the cost of the Kindle.
Do you worry that they will be stolen or peddled?
Well, that was one of the other reasons for going schoolwide. Every kid is going to have one so there wouldn't be a desire to grab someone else's. We're going to be doing checks with them to ensure that they still have them.
How will you measure the outcomes of using this in the classroom?
Several ways. One is that we're going to be monitoring our FCAT scores. The other piece is the survey results. We're going to follow our feedback from our kids and how successful they are, and we're going to watch their grades. Another piece of this is grades and attendance and being able to monitor that.