Del Mar school district grapples with how to finance needed technology

By Karen Billing

At the Del Mar Union School District’s Jan. 23 meeting, the board heard an update on how students are using technology in the classroom in a purposeful and meaningful way, as well as the challenges they face in getting devices into the hands of every student.

Shelley Peterson, assistant superintendent of instructional services, and Mike Casey, director of technology, aim to ensure that every student uses technology to develop 21st century skills within a safe and secure digital environment.

A big key is also professional development to ensure teachers are fluent and able to integrate the curriculum successfully.

“Rather than teachers thinking of technology and what I teach, it’s thinking what I teach and using technology to make it happen in an exciting way that speaks to the children,” Peterson said. “We’re now speaking the student’s language. This is the way they know to communicate with each other and they do it well.”

Casey said they spent two years developing a solid curriculum before they ever even looked at what technology device they would use to support it.

“We’re not implementing technology for technology’s sake,” said Casey. “We want to support the teaching and learning that’s going on in the classroom.”

To align with the district’s focus in written communication, they selected Google Docs as an application that allowed students to easily collaborate with fellow students and their teacher.

Peterson said the teachers have seen positive results in students’ writing skills. Writing pieces have increased drastically and there is a constant flow of writing, presumably because the editing process is faster and more efficient.

Chromebooks were selected as the chosen device. Currently, the Chromebooks are in all fourth through sixth grade classrooms at Del Mar Hills and Sycamore Ridge, three sixth-grade classrooms at Ashley Falls, one sixth-grade class at Del Mar Heights, four fifth-grade classrooms at Ocean Air, and five fifth-grade classrooms at Sage Canyon.

Carmel Del Mar and Torrey Hills do not have Chromebooks in any classroom, although they do have carts of Netbooks that are shared between classrooms.

Casey spoke of the “Chromebook cliff,” where students have the devices in fifth grade but there is nothing waiting for them in sixth grade.

There will be challenges financially as the district froze Chromebook purchases after the failure of Prop CC.

The cost per 28-student class for series five Chromebooks is $15,964, which includes mice, earbuds, a cart and teacher development. The series three Chromebooks are a little less expensive at $10,336.

The unrolling of the new Common Core State Standards in 2014 presents a new challenge as it is a requirement for students to use technology to publish, share and collaborate. The assessment test is also done on computers, starting at third grade.

With the district’s limited resources and technology purchases currently frozen, Peterson and Casey said they are continuing to work at supporting professional development, maintaining the infrastucture they have and providing tools to students that they can.

Peterson said they will spend a significant time prioritizing and seeing how they can maximize the small budget they have.

“The tricky part about it is the critical professional development that needs to occur because of the Common Core,” said Peterson. “I can’t overstate the significant shift in the instructional process and how it needs to look with Common Core. These are exciting changes but it does present challenges in moving forward.”