With devices providing link to instruction during COVID-19 shutdowns, Shawnee Mission putting iPad refresh back on the table

Shawnee Mission has relied on its 1:1 initiative devices to provide student access to instructional content during the COVID-19 shutdowns. On Monday, the district will reconsider investing in a refresh of iPads that it had postponed a month ago.

In February, the Shawnee Mission School District’s administration pulled a planned $9 million investment in refreshing iPads for student use from consideration by the board of education, saying it wanted to review its practices as related to digital devices.

But with the massive changes in instructional delivery necessitated by the COVID-19 school building shutdowns, the district now sees the iPads and Macbooks that are part of its 1:1 technology initiative as a key link to instructional resources for students learning remotely. Consequently, the board of education is set to consider that $9 million iPad refresh at Monday’s board meeting.

“In the brief window of time since the end of February to now, the entire framework of how we deliver education to our students has altered in light of the situation regarding COVID-19,” wrote Board of Education President Heather Ousley.

Board of Education President Heather Ousley penned the following explanation of the thinking behind the move:

The last month has been a whirlwind for us all, and our Shawnee Mission community has risen to the challenges with courage and determination. From statewide leadership from Governor Kelly and Dr. Norman, local leaders, like Johnson County Commission Chair Ed Eilert and Mayor Quinton Lucus leading the Core 4 efforts in our metro area, and the joint efforts of the six Johnson County School District Superintendents, our community can take comfort in the competent and consistent efforts to protect our neighborhoods and our health systems to the best of our abilities.

Within our District, social workers have stepped up efforts to meet the needs of our families, our school nurses are volunteering to provide information on county health hotlines, our custodial staff has sanitized our facilities, our administrators have worked round the clock to coordinate an entirely new K-12 delivery system, and our educators have provided a safe and friendly presence for students at home, while continuing to educate and guide. And finally, as of Wednesday, April 8 (the most recent date I have confirmed numbers for) our nutrition services teams have provided 32,754 meals for children in the District.

As many are aware, students’ grades for the fourth quarter of this year are based off the floor of their third quarter grades, with the opportunity to improve those grades with the work they are doing now. In speaking with Board members from other Districts, one of the pivotal pieces in delivering instructional support at this time has been our use of the 1:1 technology initiative. Districts with existing technology infrastructure are considering ourselves fortunate, as the iPads and the Macbooks we’ve distributed to students have allowed access to teachers and lessons, libraries and music instruction. Our physical distancing while difficult, has been surmountable, in large part, because of the digital tools already in our toolkit.

At our last Board meeting in February, a three-year lease for new iPads for K-6th grade was scheduled to appear on the agenda, with a projected expense of roughly $3 million of capitol dollars a year for three years. Please note, capitol dollars may not be used on teacher salaries or other operational expenses but for a few restricted exceptions. This lease was part of the District’s regular three-year refresh of technology, which provides that the devices are insured for free repairs, and maximizes their resale value, decreasing the overall initial cost. It further avoids increased repair cost, maintenance time, and gives students access to devices as needed to support their learning. However, in February, after discussion with the administration, the decision was made to delay the refresh for a year in order to develop and conduct an evaluation of this instructional tool. One purpose of this evaluation is to better inform us regarding the use of digital devices at school and at home.

In the brief window of time since the end of February to now, the entire framework of how we deliver education to our students has altered in light of the situation regarding COVID-19. Public Health experts have communicated to the public that the expected timeline for a vaccine may be anywhere from 12 to 18 months, and while treatments are being researched, at the moment the most effective method to prevent large swaths of infection and overloading our health care systems is physical distancing. While we may have a reprieve that begins in the summer months that will most hopefully prove sustainable, prudent risk assessments indicate that having technology at risk of ongoing and necessary repairs during the upcoming academic year would prove a detriment to our students’ abilities to receive instruction and support from their educators, social workers, school nurses and more.

In light of this, the iPad refresh is being placed back on the agenda for approval, so that students will not be at risk of having an older device that is in need of constant maintenance during the next academic year. This is being done at the same terms originally negotiated, which includes a lease purchase with zero percent interest, and maximum return on our current devices when they are collected and resold after students are provided the new devices. Our Board and our District Leadership Team are committed to continuing the evaluation of our digital technology use, with an objective of dovetailing the iPad refresh with adoption of a more user and parent friendly content filtering system for when students are off campus. The new devices will reduce any potential repair wait times from a matter of two weeks to 48 hours and will assist us in being prepared for every possible contingency next year.

Our Board is proud of the work of our entire Shawnee Mission School District team, from our tiniest kindergartners to our cabinet, everyone is doing their best to continue the growth and success of our community of students. Thank you to all of you for doing your part under such extraordinary times.

Sincerely,

Heather Ousley
Board President
Shawnee Mission Board of Education