Starting in August, students in the Charlottesville school division will be clicking, typing and researching on new laptops.
The School Board on Thursday voted unanimously to purchase 2,200 Lenovo Chromebook 11e computers from CDW-G, an Illinois-based technology provider that often works with government and K-12 education.
The move represents the division’s second large-scale computer buy in support of Blended Learning to Advance Student Thinking — Charlottesville’s effort to provide computers for all students in grades three to 12.
In 2011, Charlottesville rolled out about 2,000 Fujitsu tablets that saw hiccups ranging from slow processing speeds to easily-breakable screens, but Jeff Faust, director of technology for Charlottesville’s schools, said the new laptops are higher-quality machines.
“With this particular model we’re getting the ruggedness we want and we’re getting the convertibility for multiple teaching and learning modes,” Faust said, noting that the Chromebooks boast touchscreens, which allow the machines to operate as both laptops and tablets. “Overall it’s just a well-built, really solid design.”
Over the next three years, the new laptops will cost about $1.2 million. Faust said the division could spend about $200,000 on software, which would bring the effort’s total as high as about $1.4 million.
In its first four years, BLAST — established in 2011 — has cost about $2.4 million, about $1.9 million of which paid for the tablets.
All students in grades five to 12 will receive the new machines. Students in grades three and four will receive existing laptops, and the division will look at refreshing those elementary devices in two years. Teachers began receiving their computers this week.
In April, the division issued a request for proposals, which included extending the one-to-one computer initiative to grades three, four and five. Previously the initiative served only grades six to 12.
A 15-member committee comprising teachers, schools officials and community members evaluated the four applications they received and recommended purchasing Lenovo Chromebooks from CDW-G.
Faust said he’s confident in CDW-G’s interest in establishing a business relationship that will extend beyond a sale, citing company representatives assigned to Virginia’s public education sector and efforts to advocate on Charlottesville’s behalf to capture lower financing options.
“They put forward several things in their proposal that extend that obvious commitment to not just making a sale, but building a relationship a being a partner for us,” Faust said.
School Board member Jennifer McKeever asked if the new laptops would support the state-mandated Standards of Learning tests.
Faust said that students would not be able to take the tests on the new machines, but said the division has computers to administer the tests.
Some Charlottesville students are already familiar with the Chromebooks. During the 2014-15 school year, the division piloted the machines with 300 sixth-graders at Walker Upper Elementary School.
Faust characterized the pilot as going “extremely well,” citing 180 — or 93 percent — of teacher and student respondents recommending that the division purchase devices using the Chrome operating system.
In addition to that recommendation, teachers also requested more charging facilities, which Faust said will be installed in public areas in Charlottesville High and Buford Middle schools. Students in grades three through five leave their devices at school, where they are charged overnight.
Retirements and recognitions
The School Board also recognized two employees who are retiring from the division at the end of the school year.
Gertrude Ivory, who most recently served as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, will be returning to New Orleans, where she worked in education for nearly 30 years prior to coming to Charlottesville.
Rosa Atkins, superintendent for Charlottesville City Schools, praised Ivory’s unwavering commitment to children and education.
Also retiring is Joe Tornello, who directed the band at Buford Middle School for 37 years. At the nomination of students, School Board voted unanimously to name the Buford band room after Tornello, who said he was honored by the gesture, especially since it came from students.
“It’s more than I could have asked for,” Tornello said.