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School system to upgrade students computer access
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The Effingham County School System is taking steps to provide more computer access for its students, according to information technology and media services coordinator Jeff Lariscy.

Effingham schools had one computer for every 3.18 students in the district last year, he said, compared to the statewide average of 2.22 students per computer.

“So we’re a little behind there, but we have some initiatives right now” to address that, Lariscy told the Effingham County Board of Education.

One is to equip every school in the district with a mobile cart of at least 30 Chromebooks. The lightweight, relatively inexpensive ($279 apiece) personal computers are easier to accommodate than a desktop or full laptop computer, Lariscy said.

Chromebook carts have been provided to Blandford and Rincon elementary schools so far, and plans are to have at least one cart at every school by the end of the 2013-14 academic year, according to Lariscy.

Already in place at each school is WiFi access, which helps support the district’s Bring Your Learning Device initiative. Students are encouraged to take their web-enabled, mobile wireless devices to school to conduct research on the Internet.

“This not only allows them to access various resources, but to do so on a device they are familiar with,” Lariscy said.

The district also is finding new life for about 90 aging machines in instructional labs that were replaced with new Windows 7 computers. Rather than the computers that can’t support Windows 7 being turned into surplus, they are being reformatted with Linux Mint software to provide access to Internet resources such as Georgia College 411, Odysseyware and Write To Learn.

The technology initiatives are funded entirely by revenue from the special purpose local option sales tax for education (E-SPLOST). Lariscy’s conservative estimate is for the E-SPLOST to generate $600,000 for technology improvements during the 2013-14 school year.

The biggest expense in the budget — about one-fourth of it — will be replacing 150 or more classroom projectors that Lariscy said are “reaching an end of life. They can’t be repaired.” At $900-$1,000 each, the new projectors will total about $150,000.

However, the school district will save money in the long run, Lariscy said. Projector bulbs need to be replaced about once a year, and the bulbs for the new Epson computers cost $99 compared to the $250-$300 per bulb the school district paid previously.

“We’re spending a little more upfront out of E-SPLOST to purchase these projectors, with the knowledge that the operations budget moving forward will be reduced,” he said.

This year’s budget also includes, for the first time, $10,000 for technology innovation mini-grants. Teachers can submit an “innovate, technology-based idea,” Lariscy said, and receive up to $1,000 to implement the project.

In addition, teachers can receive technology training throughout the year. More than 160 school system employees participated in a technology training “boot camp” over the summer, and the district’s technology specialists can provide one-on-one, small group and large group training as teachers need it during the year.

“I would put our training up against any district’s in the instructional technology area,” he said.

The ultimate goal in all of this, of course, is to improve student performance. All Georgia eighth-graders take the 21st Century Skills Assessment to determine their computer literacy, and Effingham County’s scores are improving.

Effingham scored at the “proficient” level — up from “basic” — for the first time in 2013, and the district’s average score of 316 surpassed the state average of 290 and global average of 298.

“That was our first eighth-grade class to have gone through their entire elementary school years with the benefit of the technology classes now in place,” Lariscy said, “so we’re thinking that may have something to do with the increased achievement.”