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Perham schools moving fast on tech plan

Funds from the recently-passed levy are already being put to use in Perham public schools, where teachers received their new iPads last week and students can expect theirs in time for next school year.

In early summer, 750 student iPads will arrive, costing $479 each. Students in ninth through 12th grade will have an individual iPad, while the lower grades will get five per classroom.

Project iENGAGE - a term the district has coined that stands for 'I Embrace New Growth and Generate Excellence' - began with an idea about a new way of teaching, and became possible with the passed Capital Projects Levy Referendum in April.

Project iENGAGE recently moved into its first stages - building a firm foundation with staff development and strong technology support.

In an interview with Perham-Dent Superintendent Mitch Anderson on Thursday before a special school board meeting, he said with $440,000 in levy funds coming into the district every year for the next five years starting in 2013-14, serious plans to move ahead are in the 'active' stage.

Although levy funds will not come in for another year, the district was able to find an iPad distributor that agreed to give their services on credit, knowing payment will come when the funds come in 2013.

Some of the other maintenance projects at the school will wait until later in the five-year cycle of levy funds, said Anderson. For now, school administrators are determining which issues are most dire.

Things like boilers and roofs are functioning, but they are not as efficient as they come to the end of their life expectancies, said Anderson.

For now though, the district is moving ahead with technology integration.

Anderson said teachers in the district have varied experience with technology, from beginner to expert. This is taken into consideration as the district plans staff development days, splitting some workshops into advanced stages while others are designed for beginners.

iPads are changing the way teaching is done, said Anderson: "Revolutionizing instruction is what this is all about."

Now that the iPads have arrived, "a large number of staff are really getting excited," said Anderson.

The first of many technology days will be June 4. Teachers will be required to attend at least two of six possible workshops.

During their meeting Thursday, school board members talked about having enough staff on hand to deal with issues that may arise with the new technology.

Currently the district has 2.5 technology people on staff, but the board and administration agreed that more would be necessary.

After much discussion, the board approved a $300,000 contract with Lakes Country Service Cooperative for a complete multi-level technology staff. Under the contract, the district will have 5.5 people on its technology staff.

The agreement with Lakes Country will not only give the district more staff but it will bring more opportunity for staff development, as well as a stronger realm of experience for support, said Anderson.

The board agreed that if they tried to hire their own technology department, they may not be able to find people with as much experience as Lakes Country staff.

School board member Jim Rieber said, "We aren't hiring positions, we are hiring commitment and goals."

This agreement will allow the district to "hit the ground running on the first day of school," Anderson said.