School tech staff aim for flexibility
Laptops to be refreshed; board to send more students to Space Camp in Alabama
St. Mary’s school board members voted last week to use an existing contract to refresh their technology supply due to the unavailability of Dell laptop models listed in a different contract from early last year. A $45,832 trip to Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., was also approved by board members.
With an estimated $414,965.87 price tag, the technology contract was initially approved in January 2017 to refresh computers and other tech items at Chopticon, Great Mills and Leonardtown high schools.
Using the Maryland Education Enterprise Consortium contract instead will not limit what information and technology staff can purchase because model numbers aren’t listed with the contract, Jeff Walker, assistant superintendent of
supporting services, said in a phone call last week.
Dell and other technology companies “change the model number, but the specs and the price don’t change,” he said. Prior contracts have listed specific models to be purchased, and the change allows staff to “buy what we need now, and have flexibility later” to purchase more if funding is available, Walker said.
Board member Jim Davis asked what will happen “to expired laptops.” He joked that the outdated technology was given to himself and school board member Rita Weaver, who called the school board members’ laptops “dinosaurs.”
Dave Howard, public schools’ director of information technology, said school staff work with SMARTCO, a nonprofit organization that connects with those who can use the outdated tech. Older supplies are also cycled down to lower grades, he said.
Howard said the laptops have a lifespan of five years, “which is personally tough to get a laptop to five years.”
With the updated contract, Dell laptops and other computer accessories can be purchased at a 50 to 60 percent discount, depending on the volume of the order, Victoria Mayle, public schools’ procurement coordinator, said at last Wednesday’s board meeting. She said the contract used by St. Mary’s public schools offers a minimum 11 per- cent discount.
Walker said if funding becomes available later this year, more technology can be purchased for three of the four middle schools.
Howard said he didn’t want to “put a cap” on the amount in the agenda item or the updated contract because grants or other funding streams could be available later.
All full-time teachers have a school-issued laptop and access to a micro-computer in the classroom so students can interact with the smart boards and other interactive technology, Howard said in a phone call Friday.
By having the micro-laptop available in the classroom, “students don’t have access to grades” and other sensitive information present on the teacher’s main laptop, he continued.
He said Esperanza, Leonardtown and Margaret Brent middle schools are planned to be the next schools to receive updated laptops, totaling to about 1,000 laptops to be purchased. He said elementary school students do have access to iPads and micro-computers. The technology “is there as a tool” in those classrooms, he said.
School board members also approved in their consent agenda a $45,832 trip to Space Camp for 48 Spring Ridge Middle School STEM academy sixth-graders. Scheduled for Jan. 14 through Jan. 19, 2018, students will “engage in lectures and hands-on activities that delve into the history of space flight and rocketry,” the agenda states.
Students will complete a Space Mission, a Mars Mission as well as conduct experiments, experience astronaut simulators and construct rockets. Two Spring Ridge staff members will chaperone the 48 students, along with staff from the Space Camp in Alabama.