Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers has presented a multi-million-dollar plan to Oak Ridge officials that calls for digitally transforming education and buying or leasing enough tablet computers so each Oak Ridge student will have one to use.
“I believe the Oak Ridge Schools system is on the brink of doing something miraculous,” Borchers stated in a written plan.
The superintendent’s plan seeks to enhance the technology infrastructure in the schools, implement tablet computers and make the city school system the “premiere STEM school district in the nation.” STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The plan has been presented to both Oak Ridge Board of Education and City Council members.
At its Monday night meeting, the School Board approved on first reading the transfer of $1,750,864 from the school system’s undesignated fund balance to fund technology infrastructure improvements. The Board will be asked to approve it on second and final reading at its meeting set for 8 a.m. Friday in the School Administration Building conference room.
Borcher told City Council and School Board that if the digital transformation plan is approved, Oak Ridge schools would be only the fourth school district in the nation to have a tablet for every student.
In his plan, Borchers stated that he intends to use $1 million from the current fund balance to enhance the technology infrastructure in the schools. That fund currently has a balance of a little more than $6 million in undesignated funds. The reason for the enhancements, he stated, is that a digital curriculum “requires schools to be equipped with the necessary infrastructure and technology to deliver true digital content.”
Purchasing integration devices, known more familiarly as tablet computers, would require about $1.1 million per year initially. This funding would need to be maintained for a period of four years as the tablets are phased in. After the initial four-year period the funding requirement drops to about $674,00 per year. For this portion of the plan, Borchers would look to partner with the Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation and the city of Oak Ridge.
“Ideally, it would be great if the city of Oak Ridge would also support this worthwhile strategy to help prepare our students for the 21st Century,” Borchers wrote.
The superintendent was out of the office Wednesday, but said via email that the school system is considering the purchase of Microsoft Surface tablets. As the tablets are integrated on a one-to-one basis with each student, the need for computer labs and ongoing computer leases will decrease, therefore the funding needs will also decrease Borchers wrote.
The third component to what Borchers referred to as a “reformation” is the STEM proposal. A large portion of this proposal is a partnership with Discovery Education Services. As outlined by Borchers, this partnership would cost about $1.3 million over five years and includes curriculum, an education techbook package, content management, and professional development.
Page 2 of 2 – An online search revealed that a Discovery Techbook is a digitally delivered textbook. In his email Borchers said that the techbooks can be delivered to any type of digital or mobile device.
“Very exciting to think about moving to digital resources that can be updated nightly rather than purchase a paper textbook that we own for five, six, seven years,” Borchers wrote in his email response Wednesday.
This proposal was also presented by Borchers at the joint City Council/School Board meeting last Friday. During this presentation Borchers explained that the funds existed in the fund balance because that balance had grown.
“These funds are growing because of great fiscal management,” Borchers said..
Board member Robert Eby called the digital transformation initiative “back to the future.” He said that this proposal would get Oak Ridge Schools back to being a technology leader in education.
If the transfer of money, digital transformation plan and partnership with Discovery are approved by the School Board, he plans to discuss the initiative with City Manager Mark Watson to “determine the city’s willingness to partner” on the initiative.
The plan, if approved by the School Board, would also require two readings at the City Council meeting because of the need to increase the budget appropriation for the next few years, Borchers said.
Russel Langley can be reached at (865) 220-5514.
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