The SISD (Sweetwater Independent School District) Launch Pad Initiative was the main topic of discussion at the school district's Board of Trustees meeting held on Monday evening, July 16, 2012 at the Administration Building.
Presented by SISD's Educational Technology Director, Mike Marlett, the board learned about the highlights of the program--which will allow this year's eighth graders to use Apple iPads--while also going over the handbook that will be presented to both students and parents.
One of the biggest things the district hopes to get across is that the iPad is still school property. The initiative states that SISD "retains the right to collect and/or inspect at any time and to alter, add, or delete installed software or hardware"--meaning that space must be available on the device for school-related purposes.
Each student will be given an Apple ID, which will give them ownership on software like iTunes, which will be used to download educational apps that will serve as a new format to workbooks. And with the iCloud--which syncs and saves a student's work, students can access their information from any Apple product with their Apple ID.
Parents will be required to attend an informative meeting that will go over the fees involved with the iPad and will teach parents on how to use the iPad along with internet safety. A matter that will be heavily stressed is that the device must be returned at the end of the school year; if not, the student will be responsible for its replacement.
An important general precaution that will be presented to parents and students will be to never leave the device in an unlocked or unsupervised area, which should promote responsibility. Otterbox cases have been purchased to protect from damages; should the device be lost or misplaced, an app--that would need to be downloaded--is available that can give the address of where the iPad is and can even be set up to sound an alarm in order to find the device.
Within use at school, a variety of apps and Google apps will be on the iPad to help further the students' educational experience. Secure online discussion groups will also be implemented.
One of the concerns in beginning the initiative was internet access. However, this summer Sweetwater Middle School (SMS) will be set up with a WiFi network for the entire campus. For after-school use, common areas on the campus will become wireless "hot spots". SMS's internet connection will not be accessible from a student's home, but the student will be able to complete their work at home and can upload the work upon returning to campus the following day.
Internet access also opens the door toward internet filtering. The school will have a filter on their network, but the iPad will not be filtered outside of the school. Parents will be educated on the access in the meeting, in that they should teach their children the values and standards on what is appropriate to view--similar to the values established while watching television.
As a result of the initiative, some changes were made to the 2012-2013 Acceptable Use Policy in order to include the iPad. The biggest concern now addressed is in regards to audio and video recording--both of which is available with the iPad.
Thus, anything created through recordings is owned by the school, and therefore cannot be published to sites such as YouTube and Facebook without approval from the school.
Another policy that was discussed was the Student/Parent iPad Use Agreement Policy. While the student will have ownership of their Apple ID, the device still belongs to the school district. The document also lines out as to what items are not covered by insurance.
Should the iPad be damaged, the student is still responsible for returning the broken device to the school. In the instance of a loss or theft, a report must be filed with local authorities and a copy of the report must be given to SISD.
The issue of the recording capability is again discussed in the policy as well. The iPad will serve the student in the way that a textbook would and should be brought to class, fully-charged and on a daily basis.
The board was informed that 165 iPads were purchased for the 8th graders, but in an effort to begin the technological transition into high school, one of the high school math classes and several SHS (Sweetwater High School) teachers will be receiving iPads to use as well. Mobile carts have also been purchased that can charge up to 30 devices at a time, which will also be used to upload apps.
Furthermore, the iPads will be engraved with contact information of the school as well as an inventory number to identify the owner. The information will be visible through the Otterbox cases, in which students will be allowed to personalize for further identification and use for each school year.
Teachers are already undergoing training, and the district is very excited about the "great opportunity" presented through the initiative.
Following the presentation, the policies laid out in the initiative had to be approved. The 2012-2013 Acceptable Use Policy--for both students and faculty--was approved, along with the Student-Parent Technology Use Agreement Policy that will be presented to parents during the informative meeting on the iPad initiative.
Another policy approved was the CIPA (Children's Internet Protection Act) Policy, which was presented during the June 2012 meeting. No changes were reported from the previous presentation, which outlined internet access, inappropriate use, and education and monitoring.
Other action items presented at the meeting was the School Lunch Program. Following federal regulations by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) which lays out a plan for all schools to eventually set their student lunch prices to at least $2.46, the board approved increasing the price of student lunches by ten cents for the upcoming school year.
Now, student prices will be set at $2.20 (JP Cowen, East Ridge and Southeast), $2.25 (SMS and Sweetwater Intermediate) and $2.30 (SHS).
Policy Update 94 was approved as well, which addresses food allergies. A process will be established in which parents will identify if their child has food allergies and, if necessary, will complete a questionnaire. Substitutes and modifications will be determined, while cafeteria personnel and staff will be trained on identifying anaphylaxis.
Furthermore, the TASB (Texas Association of School Boards) Risk Management Interlocal Agreement was approved, which deals with unemployment and workers' compensation. The consent agenda--which included the minutes from the June 7 meeting, investment statement, delinquent tax lot bids as well as the June 2012 financial statements and bills--was also approved.
Approval was additionally given to the professional personnel changes, which included 9 resignations, 7 reassignments and 15 new hires.
As part of the Superintendent's Report, the board was informed of 4 resignations, one retirement and 5 new hires. Tax collections were reported at 96.14%, equaling $5,467,265.07.
The preliminary report on the FIRST (Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas) was presented, in which SISD earned a score of 68 to obtain a Superior Rating. The district's business manager, Nathan Elhert, offered the details of the report, in which Superintendent Terry Pittman praised Ehlert for his hard work.
As the report is preliminary, the approval of the report will take place either during the upcoming August or September meeting.
Also, an update on the upcoming TRE (Tax Ratification Election) was given, in that a presentation was recently made at the Rotary Club meeting. Plans are in place to present at the Lions and Kiwanis Club meetings, among other civic groups, prior to the August election.
A discussion was held as well on the date for the upcoming Budget Workshop meeting. A preliminary budget will be presented during a lunchtime meeting set for August 15.
In addition, online payments for the district's food service will be in place for the upcoming school year. RevTrack allows for parents to use their credit or debit card on the district's website to make pre-payments on school meals. A $2 fee will be added to each transaction, with the program being evaluated at the end of the first semester.