Havre’s Board of Trustees took the advice of Apple Inc.’s late-1990’s slogan, Think Different, while purchasing 500 of the company’s iPad computers for next school year.
The final 4-2 vote came at the end of a long and thorough discussion at Tuesday night’s meeting that itself followed a months-long debate about how to keep Havre Public Schools from falling behind the state and nation.
The discussion was preceded by a presentation from Jackie Rygg, the district’s tech specialist, and Rebecca Reno, Havre High School biology teacher, on how the devices could change the way schools teach.
Reno had only had her iPad less than a week and was already proficient enough to impress the board with videos and interactive graphics embedded in e-books textbooks and innovative classroom collaboration tools.
Rygg presented a number of statistics on the effectiveness of technology in engaging students like never before — 85 percent of students reported being more motivated to learn and 90 percent felt more engaged. Assignments were also 93 percent more likely to be submitted electronically, according to the study, saving the studied school nearly $30,000 in paper and supplies.
Havre Middle School industrial arts teacher Tim Hagen said he had only heard about the technology discussion in the Havre Daily News article last week, but was very excited by the possibilities, including hand tool training and even the ability to remotely manipulate a computer-controlled router for wood shop.
After Havre Public Schools Superintendent Andy Carlson explained how happy he was because of the excitement of the teachers, it was the board’s turn to talk.
Board Vice Chair Harvey Capellan said that he personally had an iPad that he loved, but that his son may love it even more. He described having to fight his son for it, who would use the device not to play games but voraciously consume information, coming back to his parents with facts ad nauseum.
“I cannot imagine this district going much further without them, ” Capellan said.
He explained that children treat the fragile devices “like glass, ” more delicately that most adults.
Board Chair Darlene Bricker said the opposite, that her grandchildren treat her iPad quite roughly, but the iPad is durable enough to take it.
Carlson and Rygg explained that there would inevitably be some breakage, but the schools built in the cost of cases into the purchase request and were talking with the schools’ insurance company about covering the devices.
Trustee Norm Proctor, one of the two trustees that voted against the purchase, was concerned about the sustainability of the plan and whether the school could afford this purchase.
Carlson said that this year created a surplus, with the mild winter cutting down on energy and snow removal costs as well as some unexpected staffing surplus. Even if, or when, future years are not so forgiving, this year’s expenditure was more than he had hoped to accomplish, and that it would never cost this much again.
“I know I need to be a good steward to our money, ” Carlson said. “I know we’re responsible to our taxpayers, but we are also responsible to our students. I recommend this as what is best for our students. ”
Bricker asked about how the devices would be distributed.
Carlson explained that the focus would be on putting them in eighth-grade and ninth-grade English and science classrooms, while also placing some in the libraries of every school to be used by teachers who are curious but not ready for the big jump.
Trustee Mark Magelssen, the other trustee to vote against it, was concerned that the process was moving too quickly and felt rushed. He wanted more time to talk and think about it.
According to Carlson, this could not be done. On July 1, the financial year ends and all of the surplus money would be re-appropriated by the state into the general fund. It needed to be used or lost.
Bricker said that she understood concerns, but Havre schools are already behind most others in the state and country and something needed to be done.
“I’m a teacher. I don’t make that much money. I pay my taxes, ” Bricker said. “And I know where I want this district to be. I know where I want my grandchildren in their education to be. I know where we sit, and it concerns me.
“It’s a big chunk of money, but it’s not going to change or get cheaper. If we sit and do nothing it’s going to cost us more. ”
Capellan said too much of the talk of the expense sounded as if the schools were just throwing the money out the window.
“We need to not look at this as an expenditure, just spending funds left over, but as an investment, ” Capellan said. “If we have teachers who are excited about it and want to do it, let them do it. ”
Former Board Chair Shad Huston attended the meeting and chimed in, telling the board about the effect he had personally seen an iPad have on his daughter, and the fierce debates on the subject he had engaged in with his 72-year-old father.
“Three years ago, I was up there at that table, and I probably messed up, ” Huston said.
He said that the board he headed rejected these sorts of devices as toys and distractions that get in the way of education, not as the tool he has come to recognize, that enhances the process and draw in students to help them learn more effectively and enjoy it.
“Havre, if they don’t want to embrace technology, that’s not going to stop the rest of the world, ” Huston said.
Despite her vocal concerns, Trustee Cindy Erickson, who could have voted to stop the project, broke with the skeptics Proctor and Magelssen, to join Bricker, Capellan and Curtis Smeby in voting yes. Trustee Aileen Couch was not present and the seat vacated by Lee Christianson when he chose not to run again was not filled until later in the meeting.