New Trier High School is embracing a future with more e-books and iPads -- and fewer old-fashioned text books. But not all parents in the district are thrilled with having to pony up extra money for the gadgets.
"We're in a wealthy district, but you can't assume that everyone's wealthy," said Mary Rita Kropp, a New Trier parent who addressed the school board on the topic at a meeting this week.
Beginning next school year, half of the district's students will have iPads as part of the new Mobile Learning Initiative. In the 2014-2015 school year, the program will be expanded to include all students.
The New Trier School Board recently approved the program's expansion after impressive educational results from a pilot program this year, in which 700 students used iPads for classwork, said Chris Johnson, the district's director of technology.
"We believe there will be significant cost savings for families, but this is really about the educational impact," Johnson said. "We've seen really exciting results already."
Here's how it works: Depending on automated scheduling, 2,300 students will be opted into program. The district pays an average of $620 per iPad for the machine, keyboard, case and necessary applications, Johnson said. It then provides a $270 subsidy for families, who would pay $350 for a 16GB iPad or $450 for a 32GB version.
As another option, families can pay $180 a year for three years in a lease-to-own option. Rising seniors can choose to rent iPads for $150 a year. Families can also simply buy their own, as long as it's 2nd generation or later.
None of the options sound great to Kropp, a substitute teacher who teaches technology in Wilmette District 39, and who is skeptical of the cost versus the educational value.
"Not every family in the district can afford these things and mandating them is a little much," Kropp said. "It's a piece of electronic equipment that will break and become obsolete very quickly."
Kropp asked New Trier School Board members what alternatives there were for families who found the price tag too onerous. .
In an interview after the meeting, Johnson said families could seek assistance through the district's financial aid office. The iPads will result in savings for families who now spend an average of $400 a year on textbooks, he said, adding that the district would present cost savings projections next month.
New Trier will basically break even with the iPad investment, Johnson said. The cost will range from $80,000 to $270,000 per freshman class, he said, but there will be savings, too. In addition to phasing out expensive textbooks, the district will also try to reduce the number of its 1,200 student laptops.
The Mobile Learning Initiative is really about educational gains, though, Johnson said. The iPads are intended to augment, not replace, valuable classroom instruction. Students will have new capacities with the iPads -- such as recording and editing video and audio, charting and graphing data, and better digital communication with their teachers.
As for Kropp, and parents like her, Johnson said they were a minority in the feedback so far received.
"Her perspective is definitely valuable," he said. "But I would say the feedback from nine out of 10 people has been overwhelmingly positive."