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Chester County Press

U-CF School District moving towards issuing more Chromebooks to students

02/09/2016 10:45AM ● By J. Chambless

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

The long-discussed plan to issue Chromebook devices to students in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District took another step forward at the school board's Feb. 8 work session.

Board member Carolyn Daniels reported that, at a meeting of the Curriculum Council that preceded the work session, there was lengthy discussion with teachers and administrators about the merits of the Chromebook pilot program, which has been the focus of study for two and a half years.

“We met, and teachers told us that students needed greater access to computers and devices in the classroom,” Daniels said. “The recommendation now is to provide every student in grades 6 to 12 with a Chromebook, have every course organized using the LMS (an online Learning Management System), and professional development that's focused on enhancing participation and learning using the Canvas technology with Chromebooks. This is just the beginning. There are many conversations to come.”

Ken Batchelor, the assistant to district superintendent, said, “This is about providing a tool that will enhance learning. It's not a tool that will be used all the time, but we found that students, with greater access, can have more opportunities for collaboration. There's two pieces to this discussion -- there is the philosophy, and then there's how do we want to do this? The recommendation is about moving forward. The next step is to determine if we do we want to do it, and then how do we want to do it?”

District superintendent John Sanville added, “We realize this is a significant endeavor for the board and district, and we're not going to rush through this. We need to find out how we're going to finance it. That's not something we're going to make a decision on without taking some time and discussion and thought.”

Board member Robert Sage commented, “There are many reasons why this will help our teachers, help our students, and help the overall quality of the classroom. I'm very enthusiastic about the LMS. Parent feedback from the middle school was 97 percent positive. I do think we need to think carefully about how we do professional development so we implement the tool and use it the best way possible. We're not trying to use the LMS and Chromebooks 24 hours a day. There are right ways to use it, and there are times when you want to get students working with a pencil and paper.”

Board member Gregg Lindner said that he is in favor of having students carry the small, lightweight Chromebook devices rather than a backpack full of heavy textbooks, and pointed out that when information changes for a social studies curriculum, for instance, the material can be accessed online rather than requiring the district to buy a whole new set of textbooks. Lindner was, however, concerned about one proposal to charge families a fee to help pay for the Chromebooks.

“We don't charge students to give them a textbook, so I have a concern about what might be an excessive fee with the Chromebooks,” he said. “If you have three children that are between sixth grade and 12th grade, you're talking about a family that now must deal with three times a fee of $75, or $225 a year. When we have discussions about taxes, and we discuss whether there's going to be a $50 or $60 increase in annual taxes, now we're talking about doing something to a family that might be four times that, for each year that they have children in the school. So I get concerned about that.”

The issue of paying for the Chromebooks is still a large point of discussion, Sanville said, and no decision has been reached about whether or not to charge a fee for their use.

Daniels told the board that a proposed policy change regarding eliminating the decile ranking for Uninville High School students is getting lots of favorable opinions. “Since we last spoke, the class rank study committee has met with the public and administration to discuss eliminating ranking by deciles,” she said. “The concept went over very favorably. A parent letter has gone out, explaining the process, and there is a meeting on Feb. 10 in the high school LGI room to give families more information about the administration's recommendations.”

Batchelor said that since opinion seems to be unified on the matter, the board could vote to revise the policy this month, or at their March meeting.

At the beginning of the meeting, another issue that has been the focus of considerable fact-finding was presented to the board by Unionville High School students Matthew Daniels and Alice Liu. They have been working on a proposal to push back the starting time for high-school students to allow more time for sleep, instead of requiring a 7:30 a.m. start time.

Liu said, “We have been working with the Chester County Student Forum's delayed start time committee, consisting of high-school representatives from all county high schools. This project is one with multiple phases. We've discussed positive impacts of a delayed start time. We had research from an outside firm and talked with Lower Merion School District, which also has been doing some delayed start time research. We've determined that the benefits are pretty clear. Later start times lead to decreased tardiness, increased academic performance, more sleep for students and increased attentiveness in class,” Liu said.

“Now that we've discovered the benefits, we're discussing some of the obstacles, including busing schedules,” Liu added. “Some obstacles we've come up with are transportation, extracurricular activities, the effect on younger students, the effect on teachers, and community opinions.”

Daniels said, “Although people realize it's an important issue, there are concerns about the feasibility of delaying start times. Moving forward, we'll be starting the plan formulation phase, where the subcommittee will be considering delay times -- half an hour, 45 minutes, or a full hour. We'll be looking at reducing times between classes, or little ways to find time during the day. We hope that, by spring, we will have a proposed plan which we'll be delivering to the Chester County Board of Education. We want to find a way that works for students, faculty and the community as a whole.”

Sanville thanked the students and said, “I think there are options are on the table -- either us pursuing it individually as a district, or us pursuing it with a portion of the county, or the entire county.”

Board president Victor Dupuis said, “It's a very compelling case. The benefits have been validated. The question is, can we figure out a way, throughout the county, to overcome the obstacles? I believe the answer is that we can if we want to. We need to encourage school district leaders around us to think creatively about how to solve this, and not focus on obstacles that would prevent it.”

Rick Hostetler, the supervisor of buildings and grounds, reported that delayed work on the office area of Patton Middle School was complete. “We're planning to move into the main office on Friday at the close of school,” he said. “The new main office will open on Tuesday. The original completion date was Dec. 9, so we are two months behind on a three-month project,” Hostetler said, smiling. “It's been challenging. The auditorium at the middle school is the next piece, and that's out for bids now. The bids are due back by March 2.”

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email [email protected].