Parents Have Say in District's $5 Million Technology Upgrades

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We are living in a digital world, and sixth grader Gracie Palmer is a digital girl.

"An iPad would be a lot more convenient, because you could put a dictionary on there, and you could just say the word, and it would make school go a lot easier," Palmer said.

That might be an option soon, thanks to a $64 million bond from 2010 that allocated $5 million to technology improvements throughout the district. Extensive renovations - including high speed wireless internet, new telephones, and two-screen projectors in classrooms - have already cost about $3 million.

Before St. Johns Public Schools puts an iPad in every student's hand using the rest of the money, they want to hear from parents through an online survey.

"We're really interested in seeing what kind of access parents have at home right now, what kind of access students already have to devices they could bring in, and what people would be interested in if we decide to send devices home," said St. Johns Information Director Dan Davenport.

The survey includes questions about how often children are allowed on the internet, what kind - if any - internet access children have at home, what kinds of devices are in the home, and whether parents would be willing to pay insurance if the school decides to offer devices that would be sent home.

"It had a lot of options, it wasn't just do you agree or disagree," said Stephanie Palmer, a mother with three children in St. Johns schools, who took the survey. "Not only that, but if you have kids in the elementary and middle school level, obviously your needs are different for technology and what you want them to have access to."

So far 168 people have taken the survey, and St. Johns hopes to keep the communication lines open through focus groups in the fall. They'll start offering some trial devices in November.

"As we add devices in the classroom and as we allow them to bring them in, we want to know what they're thinking about what works and what doesn't work," Davenport said.

Students will also being included, and they already have their first volunteer.

"I really like technology, and I think it's fascinating," Palmer said. "So I'd be happy to be a part of that. I'd be honored."
St. Johns will also be sending out paper surveys to the whole district in the next two weeks

Davenport said each school, and even each grade, will eventually receive very different devices so as to suit the needs of students best. They expect to fully implement new devices next school year.

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