ANN ARBOR, MI – Ann Arbor Public Schools is spending $4.2 million on technology to aid in its implementation of a fully virtual start to the coming school year.
The district’s Board of Education unanimously approved the purchase of 13,000 Chromebook devices Wednesday, July 29, providing each student in the district with their own device for remote learning. The new devices will be paid for out of the district’s 2018 technology bond.
The purchases will ensure that all of the district’s 18,500 students have a device pre-loaded with applications and programs necessary to complete remote learning after Ann Arbor Public Schools announced it would begin the year with remote learning on Sept. 8.
“A lot of families had children sharing a device,” Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Jeanice Swift said. “It worked in the spring, because we were asynchronous. Now that we’re moving into the fall, we will be live in the classroom for most all of our students.”
In February, the district replenished its technology stock with a $2.44 million purchase of new devices with 2015 technology bond funds.
Interim Executive Director of Instructional and Information Technology Heather Kellstrom said the district replenishes between one-quarter to one-third of its devices each year to keep its stock up to date.
AAPS will continue to have students use 5,300 devices that are in “great” shape, she said, including 2,500 newer Chromebooks and around 2,800 iPads it purchased in February.
Kellstrom said the district was fortunate to have its technology bond funds in place to be able to make a significant purchase, with an assurance those devices will arrive before the start of the school year.
“There has been a logjam in getting access to mobile devices. In the technology world, we are likening Chromebooks to toilet paper right now,” Kellstrom said. “As they become available we have to be ready to act.”
Ann Arbor Public Schools plans on using the new devices with its new learning platform, Schoology, which is expected to be implemented this fall.
Swift said there are advantages to having newer devices equipped with the latest technology and learning platforms the district is using, both from an ease of use standpoint and in preventing those devices from being frequently serviced throughout the school year.
We are finding that a student who has all of the grade-level apps pre-loaded on a district device that is in good order and repair … it makes the use of the toolbox and the tools so much smoother,” she said.
Board member Jessica Kelly said the district is fortunate to be able to rely on bond funding to make large, critical purchases in an emergency.
“If you add up all of the ways we support our infrastructure with roofs and cleaning, it adds up – there’s overhead,” Kelly said. “In this new, strange, terrible world, this is our overhead. It’s a big number and I, for one, don’t take this decision lightly, but this is the schoolhouse right now.”
Board member Simone Lightfoot shared Kelly’s sentiments, thanking voters for having the foresight to support district funding of technology purchases.
“To be in the space and place where we can turn on a dime and customize a device for every child with a budget that exceeds some school districts’ capacities … I want to thank our constituents for looking out for our young people,” she said.
Unveiling three different enrollment options the district plans to offer last week – A2 Student Link, A2 Classroom Connect and A2 Virtual+ Academy – the district laid the groundwork for what school will look like – at least in the fall.
A2 Student Link, available to all AAPS students, would allow students to attend classroom-paced online courses with teachers and students from across the district. It’s designed to be fully online all year, so even as schools proceed through phases of reopening eventually, learning through the program would remain virtual.
A2 Classroom Connect, also available to all AAPS students, would allow students to attend online classes with teachers and peers from their neighborhood school. It would start out fully online, but as schools proceed through phases of reopening, students would have the choice to continue participating virtually or attend blended, in-person classes with specified schedules.
A2 Virtual+ Academy, available for grades 6-12, would allow students to sign up for individualized courses and complete assignments at their own pace, with a teacher offering feedback and office hours.