Educators in Richmond County now have a new tool in their push to increase the use of technology in schools.
The Richmond County Board of Education purchased about 190 iPads for central office administrators and principals to be used in the 2011-12 school year.
Although the tablet computers will not yet be available for students, the iPads are aimed at helping administrators better evaluate teachers and keep track of data, said the system's director of media and instructional technology, Kim Stripling.
The reason for the move to iPads, Stripling said, is to make administrators more mobile and to give them access to Apple Inc.'s education applications.
Stripling said the district bought the iPads with grant funding at $715 each, totaling $135,850.
"It's a pretty neat, pretty powerful thing," Cross Creek High School Principal Jason Moore said of the iPads being used for education.
Principals will use the application eWalk while observing teachers in classrooms and then send the evaluation to teachers in seconds.
Moore said the application allows him to type comments into an evaluation sheet and then upload it to a database, which sends teacher feedback through e-mail.
"We have an instant dialogue on how to improve instruction," Moore said. "Before, I'd have to come back, take my notes, type them in a template we had or e-mail it. ... Now, by the time I leave the (classroom), I hit a couple things and send it, and they instantly have it."
The district purchased iPads for the 90 principals and vice principals at all schools using special purpose local option sales tax funds.
The 20 iPads purchased for central office administrators were paid for with a federal Title II competitive grant, according to Stripling.
Along with the evaluation applications, these administrators will use apps such as the remote desktop, so they can access their office computers on their iPads while they are out of the building.
The only school that will receive iPads for its teachers is T.W. Josey High School, which purchased the devices with its School Improvement Grant to help with instruction.
Stripling said teachers may use the iPads in labs with some students or link them to the Promethean interactive boards.
Richmond County school board President Alex Howard said that despite the cost, the iPads will help the system run more efficiently and help schools become more technology-focused.
Because not all administrators are given board-assigned laptops, the iPads could even save money, Howard said.
"I think we need to embrace it and move with it, and it will make our school system more efficient," Howard said. "Even in meetings, instead of having to print out the agenda and all the items for the board meetings, there's an application you're able to put notes in ... so you cut your costs there."
Without the textbook industry fully switched to digital textbooks and upgrades for book editions, Stripling said students in Richmond County will likely not be assigned iPads for several years.
However, that is a direction the district would like to move.
"I see the first step being class sets of them like a mini lab," Stripling said. "To have the students just carry around an iPad and not a 50-pound book bag, truly that's what I'd like to see. We hold on to traditional things in the public school system, so that's a hard jump, but truthfully it will be cheaper."
However with the district already using $10 million in reserve funds to make up for a $17 million budget shortfall next school year, board member Barbara Pulliam said she would have liked for the iPads only to be given to principals.
While principals are mobile, moving from classroom to classroom, she said many central office administrators are more stationary and could still do much of their work from their existing computer or laptop.
"Sometimes, we have to deal with needs before we deal with wants," Pulliam said.
As the district continues to distribute the iPads to administrators, it is also organizing training sessions so each user can understand the education applications and programs available on their device. For that, Pulliam said the learning process may make it worth it.
"I'm not saying they don't need them, but somebody in the central office who has computers anyway, I'm not sure. I can see (iPads) in the more learning environments in the schools, but I know they're trying to move ahead.