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Brainerd School Board: Members OK 1-to-1 technology plan

Looking to meet the technological needs of a tech-driven 21st century, the Brainerd School Board approved the preliminary steps of the 1/1 technology plan. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

It's officially a green light.

Brainerd School Board members voted to approve the 1-to-1 2019-23 technology plan—a concerted effort to get personal hand-held devices, like iPads or other tablets for example, into the hands of each students to improve their learning experience and retention, said Sarah Porisch, director of technology.

The technology plan also includes modernizing the curriculum, labs, instructor training (both individual and department-wide) and other technological upgrades. It deals primarily with Brainerd High School in the short term, with sights on other facilities in the district down the road.

Board members voted to approve the plan after initially tabling the matter when Porisch didn't present a text version of the proposal for their review during the Aug. 13 meeting. With the right documents provided, the board had no issues signing off on the initiative during the meeting Monday, Aug. 27.

"We made a commitment that we're going to prepare our students for an ever-changing global society," Porisch said during the Aug. 13 meeting. "And that ever-changing global society has devices in it."

Now that the district is moving forward on the plan, it's worth a look at some of the nuts and bolts of the plan in its early stages.

According to the 1-to-1 technology plan, the district's stated goals are:

• To improve student technology skills upon graduation. Special emphasis would be placed on devices used in professional environments, Porisch noted, compared to non-professional devices like smartphones or other devices without an explicit job application.

• To spur student motivation and engagement. While an initiative of this kind hasn't been proven to increase student test scores, Porisch said, the immediacy of technology—like access, feedback and grade tracking—have been proven to improve retention and student performance.

• To increase diversified learning opportunities. Technology can address different forms of learning—such as hands-on, aural or visual—as well as provide access to different sources and mediums of information.

• To guarantee equal device access to all students.

While the plan is in its early stages, tentative dates are set to establish how the plan will be formulated, implemented and installed in the district:

• Jan. 14 is slated for the board to approve any associated policies, procedures, forms, more cemented timelines and other aspects of the plan. Essentially, the board will set more permanent guidelines for how the plan is to take shape.

• April 8 is planned to be when the board will be updated on which devices were chosen and would approve or disapprove associated costs to the district.

• August 2019, there are plans to roll out the technology for students at Brainerd High School for use in the 2019-20 school year. While a January rollout was considered, Porisch said, it was the position of the staff that as much time as possible should be used to hash out and fine-tune the plan before it's implemented.

Porisch said the plan is to allocate $100,000 annually from the district's technology capital funds for these purposes—while also implementing individual school funding as well, initially $20,000 per year from the BHS budget for each year between 2019 to 2023, then $20,000 annually from 2021 to 2023 for Forestview Middle School. Porisch said Forestview is due to revamp its technological resources in 2021, while down the road the elementary schools in the district will also have to address similar upgrades in the future, starting in 2022.

While it may seem like a scarier price tag, it's more effective and cost-efficient to systematically upgrade a facility's technological needs—such as training, labs and devices—in a grand sweep, Porisch said, compared to meeting the needs of individual teachers as they come up in a loose, hodgepodge update. This also means the plan is structured to better meet the needs and provide access to all students, instead of providing advantages to some and not to others.

At this time, Porisch said the district is looking at a roughly $60,000 deficit in terms of the estimated plan cost and the forms of funding available, but—between plummeting device costs, restructuring the budget and forms of revenue, Porisch added—she and other district officials are confident that gap can be filled before the rollout in fall 2019.