In a unanimous decision, the School Committee approved a plan that would provide all incoming Westford Academy freshmen with Chromebook notebook computers, starting in the 2016-17 School Year.
The decision came after a presentation from Director of Digital Learning Julie Baudreau that outlined the plan, entitled “One-to-World: Supporting Our Vision for Digital Learning Westford Academy 2016-2020.”
In the presentation, Baudreau outlined highlights of the proposed policy, an outgrowth of the School Department’s technology plan discussed in recent years.
Specifically, she noted that the Chromebook option required fewer resources, lower initial financial outlay, and allows school administrators to limit use of the Chromebook to school-specific topics only.
Additionally, she said that the devices would help the school meet digital test taking requirements that will become mandatory with future PARCC examinations.
Westford Technology Department Director Mike Wells also noted that Westford Academy’s networking capabilities could also be enhanced by cell signal booster, which would segregate school-issued devices from other devices on the school’s network.
Currently, 80 percent of all devices and 60 percent of all network traffic at Westford Academy goes through non-school-issued devices.
However, even with the segregation, Wells indicated that network bandwidth at the school would likely need to be expanded in two years, and that in three years school-issued device network usage will rise to the current rate of non-school issued device usage.
Both Assistant Superintendent Kerry Clery and Westford Academy Principal James Antonelli assisted Baudreau with details on implementation of the plan, which Antonelli saying that school staff are eager to begin incorporating the new devices into their lesson plans.
Students would also receive additional lessons from the Chromebooks, with a new “support desk” class beginning that would teach students how to provide technical support for Chromebooks in need of repair.
Although specialized computer labs are unlikely to be removed as part of the new plan, technology “carts” used by staff may become obsolete with the next several years, as well as any future textbooks.
Antonelli also indicated that the first year of the Chromebook plan would be revenue neutral, with $174,000 coming from an additional 12 non-diploma track cultural exchange students from China in grades 9 to 11.
The first 500 devices and cases for the devices will cost a total of $137,500.
Clery and Antonelli told the School Committee that it is almost a certainty that enough exchange students could be found, although the exchange students would need host families within Westford to avoid issues faced during previous years.
If not enough exchange students are available, the program would be delayed.
Some members of the School Committee cited concerns with the Chromebook program being tied to the exchange program, and Antonelli indicated that parents may have to provide fees for the devices in future years if the exchange program revenue source is not feasible.
For now though, he indicated that Westford Academy will be urging parents and students to purchase a $40 annual insurance policy on the devices to ensure it can be used throughout the four years of the students’ tenure at Westford Academy.
Students will also be able to use non-Chromebook devices that are registered on Westford Academy’s network and meet certain specifications, such as anti-virus software.