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Willmar, Minn., businesses may assist with iPad plan at senior high

Willmar Public School board members Linda Mathiasen, left, and Wayne Lenzmeier try out their iPads during a workshop Monday at the Willmar Education and Arts Center. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- A combined effort of the Willmar School District and local businesses might put iPad2s in the hands of juniors and seniors at Willmar Senior High next fall.

High school teachers presented the possibility during a School Board meeting dedicated to technology issues Monday.

The board reviewed the three-year technology plan for the district. The plan is required by the state to make the district eligible for e-funding of $80,000 to $100,000 a year.

The board also heard presentations about technology advancements and needs at the elementary, middle school and high school levels.

It was the first meeting that board members were using their new iPad2 tablets. The district issued them to board members to avoid making copies of board materials before each meeting.

Documents will now be sent to board members electronically, and they will be available on the school district's website, too.

The "paperless" meetings are expected to save money on staff time, paper and ink.

Board members received a short tutorial on the basics of using the iPads. "This will be the last meeting with paper, I hope," said Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard.

Lyle Hovland and Tyler Gehrking are two of the leaders of the effort to bring iPads to the high school.

They spoke at a meeting in December with the business community in November.

Business leaders are interested in helping the district increase its use of technology, Gehrking said.

In the 2010-11 school year, the district started its iPad pilot project slowly, with about a dozen teachers working with iPads in a pilot project. That expanded for this school year to iPad carts and Professional Learning Community committees meeting in every school building. Teachers in the committees share ideas and work together to develop ways to use iPads in classrooms.

Hovland said his suggestion would provide iPads for all juniors and seniors, about 600 students, for the third year of the pilot project. A business group has said it would try to raise $350,000 to support the idea, he said.

"It would be a level playing field for all kids," he said, because all would have the same tool, regardless of family income.

The district could save money by placing student handbooks, school calendars and textbooks on the iPads.

Steve Giroux, the district's technology director, said the district does have enough wireless access to handle the iPads, and it could be expanded, too.

"We are taking the right step for our community," Hovland said.

High School Principal Rob Anderson said he gets frequent questions from people in the business community about the idea.

They fall into five areas: how will teaching and learning change; how will damage and theft issues be handled; what about software security; how will the program be sustained in the future; and will the district have adequate tech support.

"You are going to have to address the issue of money," Kjergaard said to the board members.

New policies need to be written to address the questions, he said, but ongoing funding would be the biggest challenge for the board.

"The one thing we need to remember -- we're never going to be able to go back," Kjergaard said. "We can't back away from it."

Board member Eric Roberts said he feels this situation is similar to the board's decision to implement all-day, everyday kindergarten. "We invested in the kids and decided to do it," he said, even though future funding was not certain.

IPads are a big part of the district's technology plan, but not the only part.

For example industrial technology teacher Mike Kroeker's high school drafting and engineering classes need more computing power than a tablet computer can offer. His classroom needs an upgraded computer lab instead, he said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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