Merced schools to spend $918,940 on student laptops

12/17/2013 8:15 PM

12/17/2013 8:16 PM

Nearly a million dollars worth of computers are being ordered for Merced elementary and middle school students, paid for by state funds designated to ease the transition to common core instructional practices.

Merced City School District Board of Education members last week approved spending $918,940 with PCMG, an online vendor for schools and government agencies, to purchase 3,000 Acer Chromebooks.

It’s part of more than $2.13 million in state funds allocated to the Merced City School District to pay for such equipment and instructional materials.

Ultimately the plan is to place personal computers in the hands of most of the district’s 10,000 students. Two more purchases of Chromebooks – personal computers running Google’s Chrome operating system – are planned next year, and some of the funds will pay for training teachers to use the devices.

The district wants to prepare students to become 21st century learners, said Annie Dossetti, assistant superintendent for educational services. The district began using 300 personal computers for 400 students at last summer’s English Language Summer Academy, and the pilot project continues this school year.

Dossetti said computers engage students in the learning process. She said students’ involvement and interest seen with computer use during the summer program made the push for the new technology even more pressing.

Greg Spicer, associate superintendent for administrative services, said the Chromebooks will be received in January, along with $100,000 worth of cabinets to serve as charging stations.

Very difficult fiscal times prevented purchases of computers over the last five years, Spicer said. The computers will help the district learn how to use the online state testing expected in early April, which replaces traditional paper tests.

Spicer said the five-week summer program next year will involve about 1,500 students in 50 classes, all using computers. By August 2015, all third- through eighth-graders will be using Chromebooks, and teachers will have been trained.

Four companies bid to supply computers, including PCMG, which is headquartered in Chantilly, Va., but has Southern California offices. A firm called Troxell bid $937,591 to supply Chromebooks. The other three bidders each came in over $1 million.

The timeline shows $60,000 to be spent through March for professional development, along with $180,260 to upgrade schools’ technological infrastructure to accept wireless devices. Between March and June 2014, another $855,000 will be spent to buy more Chromebooks, along with an additional $60,000 for more professional development.

Spicer said teacher training in using the computer devices is ongoing during the school year at the district’s Professional Development Center near Chenoweth Elementary School.

Greg Blount, the district’s director of information technology and support services, said the goal is to have each student using a computer.

The Chromebooks allow students to access the Internet through Google accounts, manage documents and gain access to school-related applications. He said the district is upgrading wiring in classrooms to be ready for computer use this spring.

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