Every student in the Manteca Unified School District will be getting a tablet-style laptop in early 2015 thanks to a $30 million launch into the digital age.
“Public education cannot catch up with the digital world if we do not leap past today and into tomorrow,” said Manteca Superintendent Jason Messer.
The school board officially hit the on switch Monday night, awarding the contract for 24,000 Panasonic 3E devices.
Manteca becomes one of the first districts in the state to give students in kindergarten through high school individual devices to use. Kids in fourth grade and above will have them to take home, including over breaks and summer vacation, notes a district statement. The devices will be handed out Jan. 12 to Feb. 20.
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“Access to the digital world will now be in every student’s hands in the classroom and beyond,” said school board President Don Scholl. “This will enable our students to better prepare themselves for life after Manteca Unified, whether they go on to college or go on to compete for a new career.”
Every teacher will get a Microsoft Surface Pro 2. Teachers got an overview in March, and teacher-trainers from each campus will gather next week for more training, Messer said.
“Time and antiquated staff development structures have been our main challenges,” he said. The district is shifting to shorter, more collaborative trainings. “This, for us, is not only about a device but about us preparing teachers in supporting students for their future,” Messer said.
The Panasonic two-in-one tablets have a long list of futuristic features, including science gizmos such as sound and light sensors, a temperature probe and an attachable magnifying lens that turns the camera into a digital microscope.
Designed for classroom use, the unit is advertised as extra durable. The screens can be flipped or undocked from the keyboard. The tablets will come loaded with a Microsoft operating system and software. Microsoft will provide technical support through its Answer Desk service.
Teachers can access every student’s computer to track progress or share a student’s screen with the class.
“Today’s students are digital natives, and we can’t expect them to respond to learning environments and lessons that are devoid of technology,” said Rance Poehler, president of Panasonic System Communications Company of North America.
Student devices make up about half the project’s total cost, $14.8 million, bought through the Pennsylvania Education Purchasing Program for Microcomputers, a technology bidding and bulk purchasing program.
The remaining $15.2 million includes infrastructure work approved in December 2013 to completely make over the district’s network infrastructure and provide wireless service robust enough to handle the load. More than 1,400 wireless access points now dot Manteca Unified’s offices and 28 campuses.
The money comes from a one-time payback of state funding withheld during the recession. The plan is to refresh the stock of devices on a four-year cycle, but how to pay for that ongoing cost has not been decided.
“At this time, replenishments are under further evaluation and discussion,” Messer said. He added, “Our primary focus is deployment this January.”
“Each day I am reminded of how incredibly fast our world is changing and progressing,” Messer wrote in a letter to the community on the MUSD website.
“The educators of today were all educated and raised in the 20th century, but we are now charged with educating children who are from the 21st century,” he says. “It is imperative that we provide them not only with 21st-century technology but the digital skills to effectively and efficiently use these tools successfully.”