CUSD boosting tech capabilities with new laptops The Chandler Arizonan

CUSD boosting tech capabilities with new laptops

CUSD boosting tech capabilities with new laptops
City News

The Chandler Unified School District is adding 2,600 extra laptops to its stockpile as it continues to prepare teachers to rely more on technology to instruct their students in a post-pandemic environment.

Nearly $3.4 million in funds were authorized this month by the Governing Board for the laptops at a cost of about $1,300 each.

The additional computers will be reserved exclusively for Chandler Unified teachers who have spent the last several weeks moving their classrooms online after schools across Arizona were forced to shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even though the school year has officially ended, the district is hastily preparing for the summer and fall semesters by equipping teachers with more tools to get their work done virtually from home.

CUSD had already been trying to provide more devices for teachers before COVID-19, said Colleen Flannery, the district’s director of technology services, but then the pandemic suddenly created a bigger demand.

“The school closure has accelerated our needs,” Flannery said.

Analytics recently released by the district demonstrates how significantly teachers have begun relying on digital services to instruct their students.

Chandler’s teachers created more than 2.46 million Google Drive files in May – a substantially higher number than the 827,800 files generated by staff in March.

The number of active Google Classroom accounts used by CUSD increased from 922 to 6,480 between March and May.

CUSD will soon need to begin exploring how it will provide more devices for students, Flannery added, since not all pupils have the same access to technology at home.

Chandler Unified is in the process of programming 2,000 new devices that students can utilize for summer school – which has moved entirely online – as well as providing free internet access at each high school campus.

Not long after the schools closed in March, the district began scheduling times throughout the day when students could drive onto a school parking lot and connect to a nearby WiFi signal.

Students could also elect to not use any technology by completing paper assignments that could be picked up at their respective campus.

If remote-learning models were to continue in the coming months, Flannery said her department might open up internet access at all the district’s elementary school campuses.

Internet connectivity has become a statewide problem, district officials said, so every district is brainstorming strategies to guarantee each student can work online if schools remain closed.

To pay for the 2,600 new laptops, CUSD plans to utilize funding provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

In addition to supplying billions of dollars to states and municipalities, the congressional legislation has carved out some funding for school districts needing resources to counteract the pandemic’s economic repercussions.

Arizona’s share of school funds is $275 million.

Though the purchase has been approved by district officials, there’s still some uncertainty as to when exactly the laptops will be delivered and distributed among staff.

“We can’t even get a delivery date at this time,” said Associate Superintendent Frank Fletcher during a school board meeting earlier this month.

Since nearly every school district in the country has switched to remote-learning models during the pandemic, there’s now a major demand for technology and supply chains aren’t moving as quickly as before.

Once the purchase has been solidified, CUSD estimates it could take another eight weeks before the laptops arrive at the district’s warehouse. After the technology is delivered, the district still needs time to program each device before they can be given to teachers.

The district will need to devise a “Plan B” strategy in case the laptops don’t arrive before the next school year starts, Flannery said, which would likely include reshuffling existing resources.   

CUSD has assembled a task force of administrators to begin figuring out how the district’s post-pandemic learning environment will take shape and whether technology will continue to play a crucial role in the coming school year.

Regardless of whether schools reopen back to their full capacity, CUSD is expecting technology to have an important presence in how curriculum is taught and presented.

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