School board approves funds to solve elementary tech and book inequity

Technology available to students in District 834 is vastly different from school to school. The school board approved funds Feb. 13 to help level the playing field by updating technology. (Photo courtesy of Stillwater Area Schools)
Technology available to students in District 834 is vastly different from school to school. The school board approved funds Feb. 13 to help level the playing field by updating technology. (Photo courtesy of Stillwater Area Schools)

The Stillwater School District plans to purchase more books for classrooms and upgrade technology across its elementary schools.

Citing inequities in classroom reading libraries and technology across the district, Executive Director of Curriculum and Secondary Education Ryan Laager presented the proposal to the board Feb. 13.

“During our conversations with teachers after the levy passage, they mentioned both of these things as needs that were important to meet for them and their students,” Laager said.

Laager mentioned that classroom libraries are not the same across the district and classroom teachers were usually footing the bill to get more books into their classrooms.

“When I brought this idea back to the teachers, they told me that nothing like this had ever been offered to them before.”

Laager asked the board to approve the following:

• $700 per classroom at the pre-K level

• $700 per teacher for K-2

• $700 per teacher in the reading tutor program, Read with Me

• $500 per teacher for grades 3-6

The total amount approved by the school board stands at $57,750 for preschool through second grade and $48,000 for grades 3-6.

“This will build a start to a quality library that all teachers can have in their classrooms,” Laager said. “Independent reading libraries are a responsibility for us. We have some great book selection but we need to make current ones with more nonfiction. This investment will help us achieve our new standards and can help teachers make more informed decisions and achieve the read-well-by-third-grade standards.”

With the help of a Partnership Plan grant another part of this upgrade includes “leveling” libraries. Leveling the libraries means assigning grade levels to books, and it helps media specialists, teachers and students find appropriate reading selections and improve their reading skills. A new software will be used to help accomplish the task.

“It’s a time-intensive process, but as a result of the cold days we’re looking to those who didn’t come in and NHS students who need volunteer hours, and also parent volunteers to help with the process,” Laager said.

Laager also noted a technology inequity between elementary schools.

The inequity was brought to the attention of the school district within the last year. Another concern was the age of the equipment with some technology at Afton-Lakeland Elementary not being updated since 2002, according to Coordinator of Educational Innovation and Technology Jeff Brazee.

There is a significant disparity between the number of students and technology devices in some schools, with Oak Park Elementary having the worst ratio at 19 students to one device and Marine Elementary having the best, at two students to one device.

The ultimate goal is to have two students to every one device at all elementary schools.

“Our schools do not have the same amount of development with our existing devices, and we want to infuse additional tech and a support teacher to create equity across the district,” Laager said.

Technology that the schools currently have hasn’t been updated for some time, with Lily Lake, Lake Elmo and Oak Park elementary schools having the least amount of technology.

These schools are considered to be the most in need of tech upgrades and are expected to get the first of the upcoming tech infusions in March. The district will purchase a combination of 695 total iPads and Chromebooks, at a cost of $190,728.

A second-tier infusion will take place in the fall at Afton-Lakeland, Andersen, Rutherford and Stonebridge elementary schools.

The final cost for the technology going into all the elementary schools is expected to be $357,729.75. The total number of devices purchased is slated to be a combined total of 1,305 iPads and Chromebooks, with about the same number of each.

When asked if this would strain the information technology department, Brazee acknowledged that it would but that he was okay with it and that the department would be seeking an additional staff member at a later date to help with the influx of technology.

“We’ve really got to do something about this,” Brazee said. “Will it be difficult? Yes. But I’ve put a photo of the iMacs at Afton Lakeland on my phone to remind me that this is something that we’ve gotta do. Those iMacs at Afton-Lakeland have been around since circa 2002, and we’re at that point that we need to fix it.”

Laager said the funding for the technology upgrade would be found by repurposing building discretionary funds, using the teaching and learning budget and in using Bridge to Excellence dollars.

The school board unanimously approved the books and technology funding request.


Contact Avery Cropp at [email protected]

  • Zaphoidbeetlebox

    Just a thought: Instead of buying books, why not put that money into technology [ 1 device for each student ] and purchase digital subscriptions of the books? The book industry is dragging it’s feet, but catching up. And you can get funding for these purchases from large companies like Microsoft. Of course, you’d have to use their software, too….