Board members spar over school tablets

Feb. 06, 2013 @ 05:33 PM

Two Guilford County Board of Education members disputed Wednesday whether the 16 middle schools slated to get new computer tablets next year are the right ones.

Nearly 17,000 students in the district’s 24 middle schools will receive tablet computers over the next two years as Guilford County Schools rolls out a personalized learning program funded mostly by a $30 million federal grant. Ferndale, Penn-Griffin School of the Arts, Jamestown, Johnson Street Global Studies and Southwest Guilford are in the first round of 16 randomly selected schools.Board members Carlvena Foster of High Point and Amos Quick argued that the most needy students should get the tablets first. Foster wants Welborn Academy of Science and Technology students to get tablets and Quick wants to add Jackson and Eastern Middle Schools in Greensboro to the list, which was drawn up without regard to student family income or school performance.“Welborn is part of the feeder pattern from Montlieu Elementary,” Foster said. “I am disappointed it is not on the list. The students who had tablets at Montlieu would not have them at Welborn, which is a technology school.”Montlieu Academy of Technology has 432 iPads, many of which sponsors purchased, for a pilot program of high-tech learning.

On a 4-3 vote, the board settled the matter temporarily by directing district staff to ask the U.S. Department of Education if the school board can add as many as three schools to the first-round list.
The school board could put the grant in “jeopardy” if the district alters the random roll-out list, said Nora Carr, district chief of staff.
“These students have a great need, and if they don’t get the tablets next year, they will be a year behind,” Quick said. “It would be a difficult headline for the Department of Education if it took money away because we wanted to help children that need help the most.”
First-round schools would be in the program for four years and the others for three when the grant would expire. Foster and Quick voted to seek the Education Department opinion, as did board member Darlene Garrett.
A lottery would appear to be fair to some schools, but not to others, said Chairman Alan Duncan, who also voted to seek the Education Department opinion.
“Some districts had no schools in the group,” Duncan said.
Board member Nancy Routh agreed that altering the random list could jeopardize the grant. She voted against contacting the Education Department, as did board members Linda Welborn and Rebecca Buffington.
“It could be opening a can of worms to change this,” Welborn said.
The Race to the Top grant competition offered nearly $400 million to boost individualized classroom instruction aimed at closing achievement gaps and preparing each student for college and careers. More than 300 districts applied for a grant, and Guilford was one of 16 awardees. 
Guilford’s application received a perfect score partly because of the experimental nature of the learning program and the random first-round school selection graders liked.

The Lottery

Selected schools: These Greensboro middle schools would receive computer tablets next year: Allen, Aycock, Guilford, Hairston, Kernodle, Northeast, Northern, Northwest, and Southeast.

Tablets: As many as 10,000 middle school students in 16 schools would be assigned tablets next year.