Lease program to bring laptops to St. Mary’s schools during next four years

July 25, 2012

St. Mary’s public schools will be flooded with new laptops starting in the fall as a four-year initiative begins this school year.

The goal of issuing new laptop computers to all teachers and administrators, as well as a 3-to-1 student-to-computer ratio, will cost about $1.8 million per year.

The computers will be added during the four-year period through a lease agreement with Daly Computers in Clarksburg. Every four years, some laptops will be replaced through the lease.

The upgraded computers will be needed in schools as the state moves to online standardized testing, school administrators said.

The school board is using the small amount of money annually budgeted for computers, along with one-time funding from the state through the federal Race to the Top education initiative, to get the lease program started.

Old computers will then be sold to students, school employees and the public at about $100 per laptop as a way to make the technology more available in the county, Jim Corns, director of information technology, told the Board of Education at a meeting this month. The computers being leased cost more than $1,000 each, according to the contract.

The county’s public schools are being wired to accept new high-speed fiber lines being installed throughout the county, establishing a 10-gigabit network among schools.

“It’ll be extremely cutting-edge,” Corns said.

The wireless network signals will extend outside school walls to the parking lots at several schools, particularly those in Lexington Park and Great Mills, Corns said. Visitors will be able to pull up outside the schools and pick up the free Wi-Fi, at least until 7 p.m. each day.

Fairlead Academy, a small school on Great Mills Road that serves struggling high school students, will have a lower student-to-computer ratio.

Corns described the 1-1 ratio at Fairlead as a “flip classroom,” where the delivery of instruction will be different from traditional teaching.

Most schools will do away with dedicated computer lab classrooms. With laptops on carts, schools can free up a classroom as desktop computers are phased out.

Fairlead Academy, Spring Ridge, Margaret Brent and Esperanza middle schools, along with Leonardtown Elementary and the Chesapeake Public Charter School, will be the first schools to receive the laptops. Other schools will receive them over three years.

Teachers will for the first time be allowed to take their work laptops home with them. Those computers, and a small number of computers that can be checked out by students, will have tracking software installed so the computer can be located remotely when connected to the Internet.

“We are very committed to this project and this school system,” Jack Ganley, Maryland account manager for Daly Computers, told the Board of Education.

The system will have about 8,000 computers in use by the end of the four-year cycle. That includes 6,160 laptop computers for students and 1,068 laptops for teachers. About 300 laptops and 200 desktop computers will be purchased for administrators at the school system’s Moakley Street offices, support services offices and Bethune information technology office.

The costs also include about 400 computer carts, at $949 each, that hold and charge either 15 or 30 computers at a time.

Most of the HP laptop computers weigh about 8 pounds, in part because of extended batteries, and have 15.6-inch screens.

Early elementary grades will have smaller models that weigh less than those, Corns said.

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